Police chief says Temple Mount to stay open to Jews

Yohanan Danino vows to deploy as much manpower as necessary to ensure holy site remains accessible

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israel Police chief Yohanan Danino attends an Interior Affairs meeting in the Knesset, November 2, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israel Police chief Yohanan Danino attends an Interior Affairs meeting in the Knesset, November 2, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Police Chief Yohanan Danino declared to an emergency meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee on Sunday that he is determined to maintain the right of Jews to access the Temple Mount compound, including by deploying as many officers as it takes to enable visits.

Danino faced angry right-wing lawmakers who demanded to know why the site had been reopened to Muslim worshipers Friday but not to Jewish visitors, as has been the status quo since Israel captured the holy site in 1967.

“We will be even more decisive than in the past, when the size of the force was a consideration,” Danino said, referring to the recent decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bolster the police deployment in Jerusalem to deal with ongoing violence and rising tensions between Jews and Arabs.

“Even if there is a danger [to visitors] that requires many more officers, we will bring in the force [needed] in order to preserve the rights of those going up to the mount,” added Danino.

“Every government since ’67 has maintained the status quo, and we will maintain the principle,” he continued. “We were careful to maintain arrangements for everyone while taking into consideration public safety.”

Some right-wing Jewish lawmakers and activists have sought to change the status quo, according to which only Muslims may pray on the site, while Jews, Christians and others can visit.

In the wake of increasing incidents of violence, policed closed the holy site to Muslims and Jews Thursday, a rare move that sparked condemnation from Arab leaders and the United States.

“The attempted murder of Yehudah Glick [an advocate of increased Jewish access to the holy site who was shot by a suspected East Jerusalem Palestinian on Wednesday night] crosses all lines in the sensitive matter of the Temple Mount,” remarked Danino.

“This criminal act of terror demands of us to make it unequivocally clear that we will not allow events like that. The closure of the Temple Mount was intended to clarify that it is a tool we will not hesitate to use.”

Police reopened the mount to visitors in time for Friday’s Muslim prayers at the site, though men under 50 were not allowed to enter the site in a measure intended to head off potential violence.

Danino’s comments came as Netanyahu vowed to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount.

“We are committed to the status quo for Jews, Muslims and Christians,” Netanyahu said. “Alongside a strong insistence on our rights, we are determined to maintain the status quo…. These messages have been passed along as clearly as possible to Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], as well as to all parties in the region and among us.”

In response, Abbas issued rare if limited praise for Netanyahu, saying the prime minister had taken a necessary step toward quelling the ongoing violence in Jerusalem.

Contrary to media reports, the rioting in East Jerusalem is not spiraling out of control, but was on the decline, Danino told the lawmakers.

“The task force that we deployed has worked for a week or so in all the points of friction, and there is a large drop in disturbances and stone-throwing,” he claimed.

Knesset Internal Affairs Committee Chair MK Miri Regev (Likud) stressed the importance or quelling the rioting and enforcing the law.

“We must not lose Jerusalem,” she said. “If we lose security there, we will lose Tel Aviv as well.”

Yehudah Glick was shot and seriously injured Wednesday by an assailant on a motorcycle upon leaving a conference at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center, which dealt with promoting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. The shooter escaped, but was identified by police as Mu’taz Hijazi, an employee in the center’s cafeteria.

Security forces killed Hijazi on Thursday morning in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighborhood, saying he opened fire when they came to arrest him. Palestinians claim he was shot in cold blood.

Last month, a Palestinian man drove a car into a crowded train platform located along the seam separating East and West Jerusalem, killing two. In the days following, Palestinians have clashed continuously with police in Arab neighborhoods of the capital. Israel responded to the rise in violence by increasing its police presence, deploying an additional 1,000 officers to the city.

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