“We won’t go to pray [on the Temple Mount] until the cameras are removed,” a shopkeeper said on Wednesday as Palestinian Muslims prepared for afternoon prayers. As in the past weeks since the July 14th terror attack, hundreds gathered outside the gates leading to the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa mosque and prayed on the stone streets of the Old City.
At the Gate of the Tribes, a focal point for the prayer protests, around one hundred women came to show support. Around 1pm they lined up for prayers and men came and handed out prayer rugs to those didn’t have them. A young boy sprinkled water from a jug onto the worshippers. It was 36 degrees in the Old City, hot and sweaty. The women had come earlier in the day from around Jerusalem and they had held impromptu Quran classes. Some rested, while others took water from men passing out bottles for free. A community has grown up here around Lion’s Gate over two weeks, with prayer leaders coming and going and locals gathering to protest Israel. Israel removed metal detectors on July 25th, after they had been installed following the terror attack. But this did not assuage the prayer protesters. Rumors on social media claimed Israel was digging up parts of the pavement outside the Gate of the Tribes and adding “cameras that shows naked bodies of Palestinian worshippers.”
Israel police know the situation is combustible. On Tuesday night clashes broke out and tear gas was fired, according to video posted of the incidents. Palestinian media claimed two journalists were wounded near Lion’s Gate, along with dozens of protesters. On Wednesday police also asked journalists to keep their distance and video showed one journalist being removed from the area near the Gate of the Tribes. The metal detectors are gone, but it appears new metal guide-ways have been installed, the kind that one might have to keep people in line at a movie theatre or fast-food restaurant.
All of this angers the worshippers and it has angered foreign countries. A Kuwaiti politician condemned Israel, as has Turkey’s President Reccept Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan. Walking around the Old City on Wednesday most things seemed calm. Tourists went about their fumbling for maps and getting lost and being harassed by shop-owners. A tourist map and explanatory sign near the Church of St. Anne has been covered in stickers supporting Al-Aqsa, with Arabic writing and a photo of the Dome of the Rock.
A crowd of Jewish youth on the Via Dolorossa feared that entering the area of Lion’s Gate, with large numbers of Muslims praying, could lead to altercations and their tour guides and security hastily asked local Yasam Riot police where they should go. The police sent them down to the Austrian Hospice on Al-Wad street, where the group promptly got flustered again. Police were very sensitive to the presence of journalists, in some cases asking them to refrain from taking pictures. Video posted online shows perhaps why. A woman is filmed shouting at the police about the victory of “Allah” over Israel, as someone films it. The security forces apparently feel that the presence of journalists may encourage incitement and clashes. Without the cameras, the women and men praying quietly seemed to end relatively peacefully.
For now the new status quo of prayer protests in Jerusalem continues and the removal of the metal detectors has not put much of a dent in the protest movement.