A gun in every synagogue: Jerusalem cops gear up for holiday tensions

Both Jews and Muslims will be able to visit Temple Mount during tense High Holiday period, as cops step up security measures amid reported uptick in threats

An Israeli Border Police officer stands at her post near the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, under heightened security for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)
Illustrative: An Israeli Border Police officer stands at her post near the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, September 26, 2022.(Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

Police are stepping up efforts to keep Israelis and tourists safe over the upcoming Jewish holidays, including the unprecedented move of ensuring there is someone armed in every synagogue in Jerusalem, a top police official said Wednesday.

The armed individual in each synagogue — a police officer, a volunteer police officer, or a citizen with a gun license — will be specified ahead of the holidays and will receive a briefing to prepare them for the task.

Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman indicated forces are also focusing on the tinderbox Temple Mount in the Old City, which normally sees a large uptick in Jewish visitors over holidays, contributing to tensions.

“There will be dynamic public access to allow Muslims and Jews to ascend the Temple Mount without harming each other,” Turgeman told a press briefing.

The Temple Mount enclosure is the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest to Muslims. The issue is of particular significance this year with a governing coalition in power that includes politicians openly campaigning for increased Jewish access to the holy site, a stance that may enflame Muslim anger.

Eight people were removed from the site on Tuesday and police were taking preventive measures regarding 110 individuals to reduce friction ahead of the holiday period, Turgeman added.

“There’s been an increase in warnings and actionable threats — of all types — during the Selichot period, weekdays and holidays,” Turgeman said, referring to penitential prayers ahead of Yom Kippur.

Screen capture from video of Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman during a briefing, September 13, 2023. (Ynet. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a separate statement, police said they had completed their preparations and will focus their efforts in particular on mass events in Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall, including the priestly blessings during the week of Sukkot and the large crowds expected for Simhat Torah, which closes the holiday period on October 7.

Thousands of officers and Border Police officers will be deployed in the capital at gathering places and holy sites, as well as along access routes to those locations.

Police warned that roads around the Old City will occasionally be shut when necessary during key holiday events and that the Old City itself will be closed to vehicles.

There has already been an increase in police presence in the Old City over the past few weeks to secure the thousands of people arriving for nightly Selichot prayers in the run-up to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which begins on Friday night.

The holidays, which include Yom Kippur and Sukkot, come at a time of increased security tensions and amid a spate of terror attacks.

Last week two people were wounded, one of them seriously, in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem.

According to police, the terrorist, a 17-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, carried out the attack with a cleaver just outside the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City. The assailant, who attempted to flee the scene after tossing the knife, was arrested by officers following a brief chase, police said.

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