Following three consecutive days of rioting by Arab youths on the Temple Mount, police announced on Tuesday morning that the contested holy site will be temporarily closed to non-Muslim visitors, at least through Thursday.
Police said that the decision was made after security assessments indicated it was not safe for Jewish visitors, who have been the target of numerous attacks there since Sunday, when the final 10 days of Ramadan commenced.
Despite banning non-Muslim visitors from the compound on Tuesday, rioting resumed when a group of masked Muslim youths threw rocks and other objects at police officers stationed there, then barricaded themselves in al-Aksa Mosque, which police are forbidden from entering.
Palestinians who barricaded themselves in the al-Aksa Mosque hurl stones at Israeli security forces, June 27, 2016 (Credit: Palestinian Media)
According to Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, 16 people were arrested, and one woman was lightly wounded when she was struck by a rock near the Western Wall.
Police have arrested 26 Arab suspects since Sunday for throwing rocks, shoes and chairs at small groups of Jews visiting the compound, as well as the heavily-armed officers protecting them, during restricted morning visiting hours.
No injuries were reported, and as of Monday, police allowed the tours to resume after barricading the assailants in al-Aksa Mosque.
Deputy Knesset Speaker MK Nava Boker (Likud) condemned the decision to close the Temple Mount to non-Muslim visitors as rewarding terrorists.
“The police gave a prize to terrorism, and instead of punishing the Arab rioters, they are punishing the Jews who act legally,” Boker said in a statement. “It is a miracle today that a disaster was averted when a stone thrown at the Western Wall ‘only’ injured a woman. If we cannot handle the insurgents, next time there will be no miracles.”
Deputy Defense Minister MK Eli Ben Dahan, a rabbi who has made controversial statements about Palestinians and non-Jews, echoed Boker’s sentiments.
“Again, we see the same chronicle, where Muslim worshipers desecrate the sanctity of the Temple Mount by the use of violence, and those who pay the price are law-abiding citizens: Tourists and Jews, who just want to make a pilgrimage to the Temple Mount.”
While Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat issued a statement supporting the police’s decision as a prudent safety measure following days of rioting, he also warned against allowing violence to dictate policy.
“Israeli police must be allowed to do its work and continue to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount,” Barkat said. “Yet we must not make decisions under the pressure of violent riots. Only conduct coherent to maintaining the status quo will ensure long-term decline in violent incidents and quiet in Jerusalem.”
After a relative lull in violence, rioting began on the Mount on Sunday, when a group of Jewish visitors entered the compound during the last 10 days of Ramadan, which offended the thousands of Muslim worshipers there.
Security concerns were so pronounced during the last 10 days of the month-long holiday over the preceding two years, that all non-Muslim visitation was banned until it was over. Several hundred thousand Muslims have converged at the compound since Ramadan began, with attendance peaking during Friday prayers.
While right-wing critics accused police of acquiescing to terror, left-wing advocates, including former east Jerusalem portfolio head and Meretz city councilman Dr. Meir Margalit, warned that allowing Jewish visitors to the site during Ramadan would be viewed by Muslims as a provocation.
Noting that violence in the contested area has been endemic since the 1967 Six Day War, Margalit said on Tuesday that the only solution is to remove both Jewish and Muslim extremists from the site, while limiting entry to tolerant members of both communities.
“The violence is nothing new and comes from both sides,” said Margalit. “What is important now is not who started it, but who can stop it. This is the main question.
And if the right wing really cares about the future of the city, they must stop provocative visits on the Temple Mount, even if it is not easy for them, because the future of Jerusalem is more important.”
Margalit added that he is not against Jewish visitation to the compound, but believes that Jewish extremists, as well as Muslim extremists, must be banned from the holy site if there is to be enduring peace in the capital.
“The issue is not that Jews should not be visiting; Jews should be able to visit the Temple Mount for sure,” he said. “The issue is those who go up there with a political agenda. I believe that without a political agenda, all of us will live a better life in the city. All extremists must be removed from the site.”
There had been a sustained period of quiet on the Mount since September, after the government banned from the site two Islamic Movement Northern Branch hate groups – the Murabitun (for men) and the Murabitat (for women) – to stop their chronic attacks against Jewish visitors.
However, since then Palestinian leadership and media have colluded to manipulate the groups’ expulsion from the site to proliferate the deadly and patently false narrative that Jews intend to seize and destroy al-Aksa, which has fueled what many are now deeming to be a third intifada.Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.