Religious Violence At Temple Mount Over Metal Detectors

Israeli security forces have heightened security at entrances to the Temple Mount / al-Haram al-Sharif, imposing entry restrictions and enhanced screening. The increased security has caused daily unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Clashes between protesters and police have resulted in hundreds injured and dozens arrested. The decision to impose heightened security resulted following a fatal shooting of two Israeli police officers outside the compound on July 14th. This has sparked controversy with Palestinian leaders accusing the Israeli government of a covert takeover of the compound. Muslim leaders have urged Israel to defuse tensions by reestablishing the status quo.

The security measures were put in place starting on July 15th with the installation of metal detectors outsides the entrances to the Temple Mount. This was met with resistance, as religious leaders and a multitude of protestors vocalized their opinions stating the metal detectors were disrespectful to worshippers. This opened the discourse for further scrutiny. On July 16th, Israeli forces opened two of the ten gates to the Temple Mount. Israeli security forces dispersed around 300 of the protestors outside of Lion’s Gate, injuring four. The following day, July 17th, the Fatah party called for a ‘Day of Rage’ to take place on July 19th to condemn the installation of metal detectors and the heightened security. 

Heightened tensions resulted in an escalation of force. Israeli security forces responded to rocks, fireworks, and Molotov cocktails, used by protestors, with baton rounds in efforts to disperse the rioters near Lion’s Gate. Approximately 50 Palestinians were injured. On the 19th of July, the scheduled ‘Day of Rage,' Hamas leader Ismail Haniya publicly condemned the security measures imposed by Israel, declaring them a crossed red line. A call for mass prayers outside the Temple Mount on July 21st was scheduled. On July 20th, an additional 3,000 police were deployed, and five Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were put on alert in anticipation of civil unrest in Jerusalem.  At this point around 78 Palestinians were reported injured with multiple arrests made. 

On July 21st, thousands of protestors gathered around the Temple Mount in mass prayer and in opposition to the metal detectors. Israeli forces deployed tear gas and baton rounds to disperse protesters attacking police. Similar clashes were reported in the West Bank in the Hebron and Qalandiya refugee camps. This brings the total injured to approximately 278 since the escalation in tensions began. The large number of injuries and arrests have sparked international attention. 

On July 23rd, an attack on the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan highlighted risks of tensions developing on a regional level. The attack, conducted by a man with a screwdriver, resulted in one death and two injuries. One man injured was Israeli, the other victims were Jordanians.  During the event, a media blackout occurred in Israeli in attempts to thwart an uprising or further escalate tensions. While information on the event has yet to be reported, the reports that have surfaced state that Jordan is refusing to let a security guard, who was involved in subduing the attacker, leave the country. This series of events binds Israel and Jordan into the ongoing conflict in the region.

The Al-Aqsa mosque, located within the Temple Mount / al-Haram al-Sharif, is the third holiest site in Islam. Controversies in access have been systemic resulting in ongoing unrest by Palestinians. With allegations by Palestinians towards Israel regarding a potential covert takeover at the expense of Muslims, tensions may continue to escalate. With the killing of two Israeli police officers, a case for additional Israeli presence of the site may be pressed by Israeli nationalists under the assumption that the Al-Aqsa mosque may be a staging ground for terrorism.

Intensive screening and age restrictions will continue to fuel the unrest in Jerusalem. Silence from Netanyahu continues to fuel the Palestinian rhetoric that may lead to the additional presence of protestors and an increased threat of riots and crude attacks. If the measures remain in place for too long, additional anti-Israel protests may spread throughout the region. The inability for both parties to sit down and diplomatically negotiate with the intent of compromise seems to plague the region. 

At a cabinet meeting on July 21st, the Shin Bet domestic security agency urged the removal of the metal detectors, stating that the risk of continual civil unrest and regional insecurity outweighed the benefits that the metal detectors provided. With competing narratives and rhetoric across the board, the nationalistic ideology initially prevailed, and the metal detectors were retained- but have since been scheduled to be removed. Most of the controversy stems from the feud between Israel and Palestine. Negotiations are underway to possibly transfer the security of the Temple Mount to Jordanian authorities to mitigate the current risks. If successful, the implications of civil unrest on board a trilateral negotiation platform are still unknown. The volatility of the region may shift interest to another issue as the details are sorted out. The unrest in Jerusalem, as it stands now, is at a vicious stalemate.

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