Islamic Jihad and Hamas threaten Israel after Jews ascend Temple Mount
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Islamic Jihad and Hamas threatened increased violence on Sunday after a day of riots on the Temple Mount left four Israeli police officers and several Muslims and Jews injured.
Police were forced to storm the Temple Mount, firing stun grenades in an attempt to disperse crowds of Muslims protesting against the gathering of Jews at the entrance to the mount who wanted to enter to mark Tisha Be’av, the day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples there.
According to police figures, 1,729 Jewish worshipers ascended the Temple Mount on Sunday. Tens of thousands of Muslims were on the site celebrating Eid al-Adha, commemorating God’s testing of Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ishmael.
Police first barred Jews from entering to prevent friction, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had given the order to do so. This led to sharp criticism from the Right, and a later reversal of the order. Netanyahu denied that he gave any such order, saying he decided on Thursday, after consulting with security officials, to allow Jews to visit the Temple Mount even though it coincided with a Muslim holiday.
“Their question was not if they could go up, but rather how to manage it in the best way possible to ensure public safety, and that is what we did,” Netanyahu said. Responding to the fierce reaction to the original decision to close off the site to Jews, the prime minister said: “I am unimpressed by all the recommendations of the Twitter cabinet. Leadership is responsibility and determination. That is how we operate.”
The decision in the morning to close the gate led to sharp responses from Netanyahu’s political rivals on the Right, former justice minister Ayelet Shaked and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, with the latter calling the decision to close the site to Jews on Tisha Be’av “shameful and disgraceful.” He said that “The decision to capitulate to Arab terrorism and violence at the holiest place for the Jewish people is the root of the loss of deterrence in other areas.”
Palestinians said that 40 Muslim worshipers were injured, including PLO Executive Committee member Adnan Husseini, who previously served as Palestinian Authority Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, and Abdel Azim Salhab, chairman of the Wakf Council in east Jerusalem.
“Israel is trying to impose a new reality in al-Aqsa Mosque and there will be repercussions for it,” Islamic Jihad official Fuad a-Razm said.
“We are tracking Israel’s steps,” said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. “This is a violation of the rights of millions of Muslims.”
A sign at the entrance to the Temple Mount, depicting a Hamas terrorist along with former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, read: “No to the ‘Deal of the Century.’” A video was posted on Twitter by a Muslim man who said the crowd was “confronting the settlers’ attempt to storm al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Arabic announcements were made on the Temple Mount through megaphones and loud speakers, calling on the Muslims to remain on the site to prevent Jewish entry; eventually confrontations with the Jews ensued.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem congratulated the Muslim worshipers who participated in “fending off the settlers at the Temple Mount,” and called on every Palestinian who can “come to Jerusalem and defend al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was quick to blast Israel for the incident. “We condemn Israel’s violations of al-Aqsa, especially on this holy day,” he wrote on Twitter. “Its attempts to change the status quo in occupied Jerusalem and its holy sites will only lead to more violence, threatening the security of all. Int’l community cannot remain silent on these violations.”
One government official said that, outside of Jordan, the reactions from the rest of the Arab world was muted, and that Jordan – because of its special status in Jerusalem – always feels a need to comment on any incident on the Temple Mount.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s office said that 1,729 Jews entered the Temple Mount on Sunday, compared with 1,440 last year on Tisha Be’av. Temple Mount activist groups said the increase was especially significant, given that the site was open for just two hours to Jews this year because of the early closure, whereas it had been open for four hours in 2018.
Erdan thanked Jerusalem District police commander Doron Yedid “from the bottom of my heart,” for having managed Sunday’s events with “responsibility and courage,” and for having implemented policies planned last week. “I will continue to work to strengthen Israeli sovereignty over the mount as I have done over the last four years, in which time the number of visitors has increased three and a half times,” Erdan said.
“Israel bears full responsibility for storming al-Aqsa and fueling religious tensions in Jerusalem,” said PLO official Hanan Ashrawi. She attacked Israeli politicians, claiming that: “To score points in election season, Israeli politicians are competing as to who can exhibit higher levels of aggression and hostility against the Palestinian people during this important religious holiday.” She threatened that events could “plunge the region in sectarian war.”
MK Ofer Cassif, a member of the Hadash-Ta’al list, accused Jewish visitors of “not seeking holiness, but rather incitement.
“This incitement is not the result of a religious conflict, but a planned continuation of the rampage of occupation forces in east Jerusalem, which kidnap children, beat protesters, steal evidence and destroy homes,” he said.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Likud MK and former mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat addressed the police commander in a statement he wrote on Twitter, saying that the consideration for Muslim worshipers was “appropriate,” but said that it should not come at the expense of “the determination of the police and protecting the accepted status quo” at the site. “We must continue to allow Jews to go up the Temple Mount. Exercise your authority and do not capitulate to violence,” Barkat said.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, however, welcomed the decision to close the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors, in line with the Chief Rabbinate’s long-standing position against Jews visiting the holy site.
Most ultra-Orthodox rabbis such as Yosef, as well as many religious-Zionist rabbis, prohibit Jews from going to up to the Temple Mount out of concern that they will stray into areas which Jewish law says are off-limits without the requisite purification ceremonies that are unavailable today.
“The essence of the prohibition is that ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount is forbidden according to Jewish law, and it is appropriate that the ascent of Jews be prohibited all year round,” Yosef said.