JERUSALEM, July 17, (Agencies): Islamic leaders called on Muslims on Monday to boycott a Jerusalem holy site at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a gesture of protest after Israel set up metal detectors at the site’s entrance gates following a deadly Arab attack there last week.
For the first time in decades, Israel closed the site — sacred to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount — on Friday, after three Arab Muslim Israeli citizens opened fire from the holy compound with automatic weapons, killing two police officers before they were shot and killed. Israel reopened the compound to Muslim worshippers on Sunday after imposing new security measures, including metal detectors at the entrance gates and additional security cameras.
The Waqf, Jordan’s Islamic authority that manages religious affairs at the site, was outraged over the metal detectors. Dozens of worshippers have prayed on the streets near the gate after refusing to enter via the metal detectors. Minor scuffles broke out there on Sunday as some Muslim worshippers tried to stop others from using the gates, Israeli media reported. Police said that despite the tensions, hundreds of worshippers had entered the compound. The Waqf, together with other Islamic groups, issued a statement Monday calling on Muslims “to reject and boycott all the Israeli aggression measures, including changing the historical status quo including imposing the metal detectors.”
They called on the faithful “not to enter the mosque through” the detectors. The statement further said that “if the metal detectors continue to be imposed, we call upon the people to pray in front of the gates of the mosque and in the streets of Jerusalem.” The fate of the compound, holy to both Jews and Muslims, is an emotional issue and forms the centerpiece of rival Israeli and Palestinian national narratives.
Any perceived changes to the delicate arrangements at the site can spark tensions. Its closure after Friday’s attack prompted condemnations from the Arab world. Jordan called for its immediate reopening and there were protests in the streets there against Israel, with which Amman has a peace treaty.
Israel did not coordinate the changes with Jordan, which serves as the custodian of the Muslim-administered site, according to a Jordanian government official. Jordan’s stance is that anything installed at the site must be approved by the Waqf, or Muslim administration, and cannot change the status quo, said the official. He spoke on Sunday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation with reporters.
Jews revere the site, where the two Jewish temples stood in biblical times, as the Temple Mount. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the nearby Western Wall, a remnant of one of the temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray. Muslims regard the same hilltop compound as the Noble Sanctuary. Home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, it is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
The Jerusalem shrine has been the scene of repeated confrontations but Friday’s brazen shooting was rare because it took place inside the compound and also because the attackers were from Israel’s Arab minority. A rash of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers erupted in 2015, partly over tensions at the holy site. Police have been gradually reopening the site. On Monday it opened to visitors. Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the security measures “are to ensure and prevent further incidents or attacks” and would continue. Jerusalem police commissioner Yoram Halevy said the metal detectors were necessary for the site to reopen.
“I assume that with time they will understand that this is not terrible,” he told Army Radio. He said that security measures of this kind are commonplace in the world. “When I go shopping on Friday I pass through a detector at the mall,” Halevy said. “We see them everywhere they have become a part of our lives.”
In the past two years, Palestinians have killed 45 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and attacks using cars to ram into Israeli civilians and troops. During that period, Israeli forces have killed more than 254 Palestinians, most of them said by Israel to be attackers while others were killed in clashes with Israeli forces. Israel blames the violence on incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders compounded on social media sites that glorify violence and encourage attacks.
Palestinians say the attacks are triggered by anger over decades of Israeli rule in territories they claim for their future state. The compound was largely empty on Monday apart from tourists and Jewish visitors, with Muslims again praying and protesting outside the site instead of entering through the metal detectors. The Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, includes the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. Several hundred people could be seen praying outside two different entrances to the site around midday on Monday. There were protests after the prayer, with crowds shouting: “Aqsa mosque, we sacrifice our souls and our blood.” Police later sought to move them back.