In a highly unusual move, Israeli police on Wednesday arrested three guards from the Islamic Waqf, a Jordan-based organization that administers the Temple Mount, saying they tried to attack visitors to the Jerusalem site.
Some 15 Jewish activists were also detained by police after they prostrated themselves in the Temple Mount compound, defying restrictions against Jewish acts of worship at the holy site.
The incident came amid the 50th annual celebrations of Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s reunification of the city in the 1967 Six Day War. During the afternoon, thousands were expected to take part in the annual “flag dance” in which primarily religious teenagers march through the Old City decked in white and blue, the colors of the Israeli flag.
Many of the detained activists, who campaign for Jewish prayer rights at the holy site, were minors, police said in a statement.
By law, under arrangements Israel instituted after capturing the area in the Six Day War, Jews are not allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, although they can take part in tours.
Hundreds of Jewish visitors lined up during the day to enter the compound. Following the morning incident, a group on a regular scheduled tour of the Temple Mount stood still and sang the Israeli national anthem as they left the compound.
The act provoked an angry response from Arab worshipers and guards from the Waqf.
Officers accompanying the Jewish group immediately acted to remove them from the compound as Waqf guards began shouting at and trying to attack them, police said.
Officers intervened to prevent the guards and the Jews from coming into contact, and in the scuffle, Waqf personnel attacked police. Cops arrested three of the guards and began investigating the incident, including identifying the Jewish participants in the tour, police said.
Video posted on social media showed dozens of Israeli police confronting an angry crowd on the Temple Mount and arresting one of the Waqf guards.
#فيديو اعتداءات قوات الاحتلال على حراس المسجد الاقصى واعتقال عدداً منهم ..
Posted by وكالة وطن للانباء on Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Police noted they had been deployed since early in the morning to enable tourists and visitors to enter the compound safely. Police said they would take stern action against anyone who tried to use the Temple Mount visits to cause unrest or provocations and, likewise, against any attempt to attack visitors or police.
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 in the past stoked outbursts of violence.
Israel gained control of East Jerusalem — including the Temple Mount — during the June 1967 war. Despite the passage of five decades, much of the international community still does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying the issue must be resolved in peace talks with Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future state.
On Wednesday morning, Ir Amim, or City of Peoples, a nonprofit that focuses on making Jerusalem a more equitable city for Jews and Arabs, petitioned the High Court of Justice against a police decision to allow the annual flag march later in the day to make a more lengthy loop around the Old City walls than in previous years.
The petition argued that the approved route, allowing marchers to continue clockwise around the Old City from Damascus Gate and on to the Dung Gate, would block access for residents in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ras al-amud and Silwan. Ir Amim asked that the marchers be limited to entering the Old City via Damascus Gate or to walk counterclockwise around the walls to reach the Dung Gate where the area is less populated.
While Jerusalem Day officially began Tuesday evening, celebrations for the 50 anniversary of the city’s kicked off on Sunday with a series of speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials, as well as a sound and light show projected onto the 16th century stone walls of the Old City.
Although the importance of Jerusalem Day is widely touted by Israeli lawmakers, the date is not celebrated by a large segment of the Israeli public.
The Jerusalem Day celebrations are widely associated with the flag dance march, which has been marred by violence and racist chants against Arabs in recent years. Police warned Tuesday that they will have “no tolerance for physical or verbal violence” during the celebrations. The march is scheduled to begin with dancing at 4:30 p.m. at the Great Synagogue in the center of town before continuing to the Old City.