Hundreds of Arab students from the town of Sakhnin on Monday took leave of their classrooms to demonstrate against what they claimed were new Israeli restrictions on access to the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Students from four schools in and around the Western Galilee town in northern Israel gathered outside Sakhnin city hall with banners calling for an intifada, or uprising, and waving Palestinian flags.
Protesters said the demonstration was against changes they claimed were made by Israel to the status quo at the Temple Mount, barring entry to male worshipers under the age of 40 and also keeping thousands of women and children away from the site, which was the scene of several days of violent clashes last week.
An Israel Police spokesman denied the claims. The spokesman noted that specifically last Friday police denied access to male Muslim worshipers under the age of 40 for fear of violence, but did not restrict the entry of women.
Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ganaim said the demonstration, which included some 500 high school and middle school students, was unauthorized.
“The demonstration was held without our approval and without a permit from the police and so I demanded it end immediately,” Ganaim said, according to the Hebrew-language Maariv website.
The demonstration was organized via a Facebook campaign that called on students to ditch school and take to the streets at 10 a.m.
Ganaim said he met with the students. “I asked them to stop the demonstration, and at the same time I made it clear that it is right that their claims be heard, but we must keep the law and the pupils accepted my request.”
Channel 2 reported that Ganaim conveyed a more sympathetic message to the students, telling them: “I understand your anger; it is forbidden to impact the worshipers and the holiness of the al-Aqsa mosque. We will not allow anyone to harm our mosques and churches.”
Protesters eventually dispersed and returned to their classes.
Leader of the Yisrael Beytenu party MK Avigdor Liberman called on the education minister to fire all of the principals of schools involved in the protest.
“I call on the Education Minister Naftali Bennett to take stern measures against all those involved and to make it clear that Israel will not sponsor those who are working against it.”