Police were deployed in force in Jerusalem Saturday, and particularly in the area of the Old City and the Temple Mount, to secure services of the Tisha B’Av fast day amid the flare-up in the Gaza Strip.
The fast begins Saturday evening, lasts until Sunday evening, and is expected to draw high Jewish traffic to the Western Wall and Temple Mount.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev met with top police brass Saturday to discuss preparations, saying “police’s main mission is to maintain calm within the country and to ensure that all emergency instructions in the south are adhered to,” amid the fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.
“Police will also be deployed in points throughout Jerusalem for Tisha B’Av to ensure public safety,” he said.
Earlier this week, prior to the outbreak of violence in Gaza, a Channel 12 report said political and security decision-makers were concerned about violence on the Temple Mount during the fast day. Previous Tisha B’Avs have seen over 1,000 Jewish pilgrims visiting the flashpoint site that has been at the center of repeated rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent months and years.
Israel doesn’t view such visits as a violation of an arrangement known as the “status quo,” which is used to help dictate conduct at the site. The policy allows Muslims to visit and pray at the Temple Mount, whereas non-Muslims are only allowed to visit. But Palestinians view such large numbers of Jewish visitors as itself a status quo violation.
The uptick in Jewish visitors has not just taken place on Tisha B’Av but throughout the entire year, as public opinion has shifted — particularly in the national religious camp — in support of the practice. This is principally due to a growing belief that equates Jewish presence on the Temple Mount with Israeli sovereignty over the site, widely considered the holiest spot for Jews, where two Temples once stood and where the biblical patriarch Abraham is said to have nearly sacrificed his son Isaac before God intervened.
To Muslims, the site is known as the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary. Home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, it is generally considered the third-most holy site in Islam, from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Some consider the entire 36-acre esplanade to itself be a mosque. Though now Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca, for a time, they too prayed toward the Temple Mount. In addition to its religious importance, the site carries immense cultural and national significance for Palestinians.
Visits by Jews have also increasingly featured prayers — sometimes in a quorum, but more often by individuals. Such conduct used to be prohibited by Israel Police accompanying Jewish visitors through the site, but footage in recent years has shown officers allowing the often quiet prayers to continue in what Palestinians claim has demonstrated a further deterioration of the status quo.