Muslim women and Israeli security forces outside the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City will be closed to Jewish worshipers on Shabbat and Shavuot beginning this Friday and ending Sunday.
The Israel Police said in a statement Tuesday that as part of preparations for the upcoming holiday it decided to stop Jews from going through the gate that leads to the Western Wall through the Muslim Quarter.
The partial closure will coincide with the first Friday of this year’s Ramadan, during which large numbers of Muslim worshipers, including Palestinians from the West Bank, are expected to come to the city.
The decision was made “in order to keep the public safety, prevent overloads in the alleyways of the Old City... in accordance with a security assessment,” the statement said, adding that it will not be possible to exit through the gate.
The move was criticized by some who said it discriminates against Jews.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan responded during an interview on 103FM Radio by saying he would look into the issue.
However, “Sometimes the police want to create a division that is necessary [between the religious groups],” he said.
“So in order to protect the lives of the people, [they decide] on street X one group goes, and on the other goes Y. There are no racist motives, just another way to save lives.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post the move was in no way meant to discriminate against Jews, noting that in other cases restrictions on movement have been imposed on Muslims in the area.
He added that in such a complex situation, where one group celebrates Shavuot and the other celebrates Ramadan, the police are taking the necessary operative measures to prevent confrontations between the two.
“These are considered wide-scale preparations,” he said. “We want all groups to arrive at the prayer destination safely, and if needed, we will divert them in other ways.”
Rosenfeld added that in recent years, only a minority of Jews passed through the Damascus Gate
, while most went through the Jaffa Gate.
A violent incident was reported on the eve of Simhat Torah last October, when a large group of Jews vandalized a Palestinian-owned shop on Al-Wad Street next to the Damascus Gate and injured the shopkeeper.
Police said at the time that an investigation into the case had been launched, however, seven months later the case has not been concluded.