Police to boost Jerusalem presence amid terror alerts ahead of holidays

Tens of thousands of Israelis and tourists are expected to visit the city during the Jewish new year, which starts next Sunday night

Police patrol in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Israel Police)
Police patrol in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Israel Police)

Police said Sunday that they were preparing to boost security in Jerusalem to keep Israelis and tourists safe as tens of thousands of people were expected to visit the capital during the upcoming Jewish High Holidays.

Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman said that police had received intelligence alerts of potential terror attacks in the city during the holidays, and that 2,000 officers would be deployed to protect major events during the period, while the number of cops on motorbikes will be doubled to decrease police response time to any potential incidents.

Police will focus operations on events in Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall, including the traditional prayers of supplication, or selichot, in the lead-up to the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur, in addition to the priestly blessings during the week of Sukkot and the large crowds expected for Simhat Torah.

Several roads in the vicinity of the Old City will be closed during the selichot and Rosh Hashanah events as necessary, and vehicles will be forbidden from entering the Old City during those times.

Religious festivities tend to be a tense time in Jerusalem, as throngs of people descend on the city and its holy sites, increasing the likelihood of clashes between followers of different faiths. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan earlier in the year, tensions flared on the Temple Mount, with police entering the compound to disperse Palestinian rioters on several occasions.

The site is the holiest place in Judaism and the third-holiest place in Islam, as well as a frequent flashpoint for violence. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site at certain hours, but are officially barred from praying there (though quiet prayers have increasingly been allowed, to the chagrin of Muslims).

Illustrative: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (center), Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 3, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/ Flash90)

Images of Israeli troops and Jewish visitors entering the site tend to provoke outrage among Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors, as well as threats of violence from terror groups such as Hamas. In worst-case scenarios, clashes at the site are followed by terror attacks.

“Regular practices in place at the mount for years will be maintained. The dates of visits will not be changed. Anyone who breaks the rules will be removed from the mount,” Turgeman said.

He stressed that there was no reason to alter plans to visit the city and that police would provide adequate protection to all visitors.

Turgeman said he had signed a number of restraining orders against both potential Jewish and Muslim agitators to stay away from the Temple Mount, for fear that they would cause disturbances.

He said potential troublemakers were also being detained in some cases. He noted that on Saturday, a girl from the West Bank city of Ramallah was arrested after posting on social media that she was about to become famous in the news, sparking concerns that she had been planning an attack.

Turgeman said that 47 potential terror attacks have been thwarted by Jerusalem police since the beginning of the year.

Police said they were also working with the Waqf — the Jordan-funded trust that administers the site — to prevent escalation.

This year’s High Holidays arrive during heightened tensions in the West Bank, which so far have not spilled over into Jerusalem.

Police walk through the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem’s Old City on September 18, 2022. (Israel Police)

Israeli forces have ratcheted up arrest raids and other counterterror efforts that Palestinians say inflame anger, as troops have come under increasing gunfire during the nightly operations.

The military launched extensive arrest operations after a series of deadly attacks that killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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