Several ministers and the mayor of Jerusalem on Friday praised the government’s decision to keep metal detectors installed at the entrances to the Temple Mount following last week’s terror attack, despite widespread Muslim opposition to the move.
“The decision of the Jerusalem district police commander, Yoram Halevi, to place the metal detectors on the Temple Mount is a courageous decision,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat posted on Facebook. “This time last week two policemen were killed at the site and he is taking responsibility to ensure that such incidents do not happen again.”
The attack at the Temple Mount saw three Arab Israeli gunmen shoot and kill two Israeli police officers using firearms they had smuggled into the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Barkat said Israel must not give in to Palestinian threats of violence over the new security measures.
“We must not cave in to threats and allow terror to achieve its goal. Even if we face security challenges [due to the new measures], this is the right decision. We must support the police,” he said.
Avi Gabbay, newly elected leader of the Labor Party, criticized the security cabinet for not making a clear decision, noting that the ministers issued an order to the police that gave it broad discretion to decide on security measures.
“A cabinet which holds discussions on serious political and security issues must make a decision, not pass responsibility on to the police,” Gabbay tweeted. “I support the security forces and believe they will rise to the challenge,” he added.
Labor MK Omer Barlev, the former head of an elite IDF commando unit, also criticized the security cabinet for failing to take responsibility. He said it was a mistake to leave the decision up to police, especially as the IDF and Shin Bet security service had a different view on the matter. Both reportedly favored removing the metal detectors in order to calm tensions.
“At this moment, when the situation is inflamed, [ministers] should have actively worked to quell the flames,” he said. That meant “making a difficult decision and removing the metal detectors.”
Zehava Galon, head of the left-wing Meretz party, agreed that the metal detectors should be removed.
“The army and the Shin Bet made a clear recommendation,” she tweeted. “The security benefit of the metal detectors is not worth the risk of leaving them there. But Netanyahu puts political considerations before security considerations.”
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz (Likud) denied the security cabinet had failed to make a decision.
“The Temple Mount is in our hands,” he tweeted, echoing the famous words of the paratroop brigade that conquered the site in 1967. “Contrary to reports, the cabinet decided to continue with all the security measures put in place following [last Friday’s] attack, including the use of metal detectors.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to use the opportunity to also open the site to Jewish prayer, which Israel has barred at the Temple Mount since 1967.
“Everyone should be permitted to pray there,” Ariel said in an interview with Army Radio. “The only place in the world where Jews cannot pray freely is on the Temple Mount. The prime minister is facing a very big challenge and we offer him support, but also ask that he change this reality.”
MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, Jewish Home’s Knesset faction chair, praised the security cabinet’s decision.
“The government decision is a step that shows first and foremost that Israel has control of the Temple Mount,” she said. “The reason why the Jewish people gathered here [in Israel] and not in Uganda is the Temple Mount,” the Arutz 7 news site quoted her as saying.
She also called on the prime minister to use the opportunity to give more freedom to Jews on the holy site.
“It is good that the government decided not to compromise on the safety of those ascending the mount,” she said. “I propose to the prime minister and the cabinet members to adopt a decision that removes the Waqf’s escort for Jews who go to the site.”
Following internal police consultations on Friday morning, Jerusalem Police chief Halevi ordered the continued operation of the metal detectors and restricted entry to young men, allowing only those over 50 or women of any age to enter the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary).
Checkpoints at the entrances to Jerusalem were also bolstered, as well as police patrols in the alleyways of the Old City and on paths taken by Jewish and Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount and Western Wall.
Friday prayers on the Muslim holy day are the busiest time in the week at the Temple Mount, with tens of thousands at the compound. The Palestinian terror group Hamas called for mass protests on Friday against the increased security measures.
Muslim clerics have also been urging the faithful to skip prayers in neighborhood mosques on Friday and converge on the shrine, in an attempt to draw larger crowds. Worshipers have been asked this week to pray in the streets rather than submit to the new security procedures.