The deadly terror attack outside the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, in which two police officers were shot dead by three Arab Israelis with guns that had been smuggled into the holy site, demonstrated a clear need for improved security measures at the Old City locale.
Following the attack, the Temple Mount was shut down to visitors for two days. When it reopened, the new security arrangements came in the form of a set of metal detectors and later a bank of advanced cameras.
Following wide-scale protests in the Arab neighborhoods of the capital and apparently as part of an agreement with Jordan, Israel early Tuesday removed those metal detectors and the newly installed set of cameras from the main entrance to the Temple Mount, the Gate of the Tribes, just inside the Old City’s Lions Gate. (Muslim officials, however, claim that there are five new cameras still in operation.)
Alongside the announcement about the removal of the detectors and cameras, the government also said it would be investing some NIS 100 million ($28 million) in a new surveillance system to be completed within six months.
How then is security being handled at the Temple Mount in the interim?
The police have kept up their increased presence at the entrance to the holy site and throughout the Old City. The exact number of officers on duty and where they are stationed change in accordance with situational assessments.
In place of the gate-style metal detectors, officers are equipped with metal-detecting wands to check worshipers.
Late Tuesday night, the Walla news site reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to have police officers stop and scan every Muslim worshiper. Early Wednesday morning, Netanyahu’s office confirmed that the prime minister had called for individual, manual checks for all who seek to enter the compound.
In practice, there were precious few would-be entrants to manually check on Wednesday. And were masses of worshipers to converge on the site, such a procedure would not be practicable; police sources told Channel 2 Wednesday that the prime minister’s request was therefore “not implementable.”
According to a police official Wednesday, the officers outside the Temple Mount are not inspecting every person who wants to go to the holy site, only those deemed suspicious. For example, an 18-year-old wearing a winter coat in Wednesday’s 96°F (36°C) heat would warrant further checks, while an 85-year-old woman would not.
This aspect of the security outside the Temple Mount has not changed since the site reopened on July 16. When the gate-style detectors were in place, they too were only used on a case-by-case basis, police said at the time.
Six of the compound’s gates remain closed. For Muslim worshipers, the main entrance, the Gate of the Tribes, is open, along with the Chain Gate and the Council Gate (also known as the Inspector’s Gate). Non-Muslims can also visit the Temple Mount through the Mughrabi Gate.
While the newly installed cameras were taken down, the cameras that were already in place before the terror attack (like the ones that captured the footage of the shooting itself) have not been removed, the police official said.
Though not directly a security-related issue, beginning last Friday, police have also refused to allow journalists into parts of the Old City and kicked out those already inside those areas.
A railing system that is meant to direct the flow of worshipers toward the Temple Mount remains in place outside the Gate of the Tribes, as does the scaffolding where the new cameras were previously installed.
These pieces of infrastructure remain a sticking point for Muslim officials, who said Wednesday that they will keep up their protest and instruct worshipers not to visit the Temple Mount until they are removed.
The calls for protest by the Waqf trust, a Jordanian body that administers the site, have been successful. Very few worshipers have gone up to the holy site since it reopened last Sunday and those that have were jeered and yelled at by protesters.
Daily prayer-protests outside both the Temple Mount and the Old City have continued unabated, occasionally spiraling into clashes with police officers.
The worst violence came last weekend, in the form of a terror attack in a Jewish settlement near Ramallah and in riots in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Friday, ordinarily the highlight of the religious Muslim week when many worshipers typically visit the Temple Mount, saw three East Jerusalemites killed during clashes with police. On Saturday, two Palestinians died during riots in the West Bank, one of them from a Molotov cocktail he was planning to throw at Israeli security forces exploded prematurely.
Late Friday night, a Palestinian terrorist also broke into the Halamish settlement and entered the home of the Salomon family, where he stabbed to death the father Yosef, 70, and two of his children, Elad, 36, and Chaya, 46.
As Friday again approaches, the government will have to decide if it will capitulate to all the Waqf demands, removing all new security measures and potentially leaving the police stationed at the site vulnerable to further attacks, or prepare for the possibility of another day of violence.