Members of the Joint (Arab) List tried to make their way to the Temple Mount Friday amid tensions between police and protesters over increased security arrangements at the holy site.
The Knesset members met early Friday morning with leaders of the Islamic Waqf, the Jordanian body that administers the Temple Mount, before marching with protesters through East Jerusalem towards the Old City.
At the Salah Al-Din Street street outside the Old City, the MKs were met with a temporary police checkpoint allowing only women and men over 50 to proceed towards the Temple Mount. Police said “an uproar was caused by the arrival of the public figures, who riled up those waiting there.”
Protesters tried to break through the barrier and several threw bottles and stones at officers, police said, adding that they responded with non-lethal riot disposal methods.
Israeli security officials were quoted saying that any bloodshed around the Temple Mount Friday would be the responsibility of the Arab MKs and other religious leaders who participated in the day’s protests. The unnamed officials, quoted by Walla News, accused the MKs of “stirring up” the crowds and escalating tensions.
MK Jamal Zahalka said that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for any disturbances” over his decision to keep metal detectors in place to check worshipers going into the Temple Mount.
A statement released earlier by the Prime Minister’s Office overnight said that the high-level security cabinet voted early Friday to grant the Israel Police the authority to decide which security measures would be implemented at the holy site.
Dozens of makeshift checkpoints were set up in and around the Old City and police patrols were bolstered in the alleyways and on paths taken by Jewish and Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount and Western Wall.
Metal detectors, a key point of contention that have drawn violent protests in the past week, were installed following a terror attack last Friday at the Temple Mount in which three Arab Israeli gunmen shot and killed two Israeli police officers.
While a year-and-a-half-old ban on Israeli lawmakers visiting the Temple Mount is still in place, MK Hanin Zoabi said that the lawmakers were given permission to advance towards the site but chose to stay at the checkpoint “in solidarity with those prevented from praying as they wish.”
The planned lifting of a ban on Israeli lawmakers visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem may be delayed following last week’s terror attack.
Netanyahu ordered Jewish and Muslim lawmakers off the site a year and a half ago, after the outbreak in October 2015 of a wave of Palestinian violence and terror attacks centered around claims that Israel was attempting to take greater control of the Temple Mount compound. Israel has repeatedly denied any such intention.
Last week, following discussions with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the prime minister decided that the ban would be lifted on July 23, this coming Sunday, for a period of seven days to assess the fallout from the move.
But in light of Friday’s terror attack at the Temple Mount, it “appears likely” that the plan will be delayed and the site will remain closed to MKs, a spokesperson for MK Yehuda Glick, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party, told The Times of Israel this week. Glick is an activist for the right to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and was reacting to reports that police were considering keeping the restrictions intact.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest site in Islam. High-profile visits by Israeli officials and rumors of changes to the status quo have preceded outbursts of violence.
In September 2015, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians escalated into near-daily attacks amid false speculation that Israel sought to change the status quo at the Temple Mount, under which Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray, at the site. Israel has repeatedly denied seeking any change to arrangements which have been in place since 1967. The site is managed by an Islamic foundation under the auspices of Jordan — the Waqf — but Israel controls access.
In October 2016 police advised that Jewish and Arab MKs could renew visits to the site.
The opinion was based on a review presented by the Jerusalem region police to Commissioner Roni Alsheich and Public Security Minister, GIlad Erdan. Police listed 14 conditions for MKs to visit, including notifying ahead of time that they plan to visit, visiting in morning hours only, and arriving without a security detail or media accompaniment. Police also demanded that MKs not make any speeches at the site.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.