Muslim women protesting at an entrance to the Temple Mount at the Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 25, 2017. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

Muslim worshippers stay away from Temple Mount despite removal of metal detectors, security cameras


Metal detectors and security cameras installed at entrances to the Temple Mount for Muslim worshippers were removed, but  the religious trust that administers the holy sites there said Muslims should continue to stay away.

The Muslim Waqf said Tuesday that it rejected any security measures, including advanced technologies, calling for “completely” free worship for Muslims at the site.

That morning, the security measures that Israel had been put in place less than two weeks ago were completely removed, hours after its Security Cabinet made the decision.

Late Monday night, the Security Cabinet said it would instead incorporate security measures based on advanced technologies, called “smart checks,” and other measures instead of metal detectors. Israel will pay up to 100 million shekels, about $30 million, over the next six months to install the new devices, which include sensitive security cameras.

A Waqf official told The Times of Israel that “the new high-tech cameras” would not be accepted in place of the metal detectors.

A committee representing the Waqf was scheduled to tour the site later Tuesday and review the situation, Haaretz reported.

The new security measures had been put into place after three Arab-Israelis shot and killed two Israeli police officers at the holy site on July 14. Once the  metal detectors were put in place, Muslims refused to enter the Temple Mount, instead praying outside of its gates, leading to clashes and the deaths of at least five Palestinians in recent days.

The decision to remove the devices came after days of intensive consultations among Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, King Abdullah of Jordan and the Trump administration, including President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the region, Jason Greenblatt, who flew in Sunday to help calm the tensions.

Muslim Waqf opposes expanded egalitarian prayer area at Western Wall


The Waqf, the Islamic trust that oversees the Temple Mount, says it opposes an expanded egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall.

The Waqf has filed a complaint with the Israel Police and will consider other steps, The Associated Press reported Sunday, citing Omar Kiswani, director of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. The Muslim body lays claim to the antiquities at the holy site and says the expansion disturbs the status quo there.

On Jan. 31, Israel’s Cabinet approved an agreement to expand the non-Orthodox Jewish prayer section of the Western Wall.

Jordan reportedly also is protesting the plan, saying it will damage the ruins of the Umayyad Palace at the site where the expanded section is to be built, south of the Western Wall and next to the Temple Mount.

The Waqf claims the area also should be under its jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, a plan to install surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount announced in October by the United States in order to deter violence at the site has been delayed due to disagreement between Israel and Jordan, Haaretz reported.

Among the areas of disagreement are where the cameras will broadcast, whether Israel can edit the transmissions or control the broadcasts, and where the cameras will be stationed, according to Haaretz.

Israeli officials fear there could be more tension and violence on the Temple Mount if cameras are not installed by Passover.

Jordan to send ambassador back to Israel as tensions ease


Jordan will return its ambassador to Israel, the government said on Monday, three months after withdrawing the envoy in protest at Israeli restrictions on access to Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque.

For the first time since making peace with its neighbor in 1994, Jordan announced in November it was pulling its envoy out ofIsrael following growing tensions over the sacred compound housing Al Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site in Islam.

Government spokesman Mohammad al–Momani said that since then, Israel had taken significant steps to ease the friction and was allowing many more Muslims to access the site, which is also the holiest place in Judaism.

“We noticed in the last period a significant improvement in Haram al-Sharif with numbers of worshippers reaching unprecedented levels,” Momani said. Haram al-Sharif, known in Judaism as Temple Mount, is where the mosque is located.

Israel welcomed the move.

“This is an important decision that reflects the shared interests ofIsrael and Jordan, chief among them being stability, security and peace,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

Israel shut the Al Aqsa compound for one day last November after a far-right Israeli-American activist, who had spoken out against a ban on Jews praying at the ancient compound, was shot and seriously wounded in Jerusalem.

Jordanian officials said the mosque complex was swiftly reopened after the personal intervention of King Abdullah, whose custodianship of the holy site was recognized in the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

The compound, which also houses the Dome of the Rock, the gold-plated shrine from where the Prophet Mohammad is said to have ascended to heaven, is run by several hundred Jordanian government employees.

Momani said the ambassador would be returning to Israel later on Monday, adding that the government hoped the relative calm around the holy site would continue.

Jordan blamed Israel for the tensions, saying it had not moved to restrain Israeli far-right nationalists who sought to overturn the Jewish prayer ban.

“The message was delivered and reached the Israelis and on this basis we have asked our ambassador to go back to his work in the embassy this evening,” Momani said.

Jordan is one of only two Arab states to have made peace with Israel. But this has never won much domestic favor, given Israel's continued occupation of the neighboring West Bank.

Israeli lawmaker Moshe Feiglin removed from Temple Mount


Moshe Feiglin, a Knesset member from the Likud-Beiteinu Party, was prevented from entering the Dome of the Rock and then removed from the Temple Mount.

Feiglin visited the Temple Mount on Monday, and asked to be allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock in his capacity as a Knesset member. He was refused by a member of the Waqf, who said the shrine is not open to non-Muslims, which then attracted the attention of Muslim worshippers who began rioting. In response to the riots, the entire Temple Mount was closed to visitors, according to reports.

Feiglin visits the Temple Mount once a month on the 19th of the Hebrew month and often brings guests with him.

Jews generally are not permitted to pray or bring any ritual objects to the Temple Mount, which is considered Judaism's holiest site, in order to avoid confrontation with Muslim worshipers at the Al-Aksa Mosque.

Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine to the place where Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven accompanied. The rock is also believed to be the spot of the Holy of Holies of the Judaism's Holy Temple. Jews generally do not enter the shrine due to its historical holiness.

Feiglin was detained by Israel police in January for praying on the Temple Mount. He was also arrested in October for praying at the site. In December he led a minyan at the site, which was caught on video and widely distributed.

No one cares about ravaging of Temple Mount


No one really cares.

But that puts me in an elite group: It includes two of Israel’s most prominent Jerusalem archaeologists (Gaby Barkay and Eilat Mazar) — and me. And a few religious or Zionist kooks. That’s about it.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Waqf goes on tearing up Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where once the Jewish Temple stood. The week before last, they hit an ancient wall that might be the foundation of a wall from the Second Temple complex built by Herod the Great.

It’s an old/new story. For the past 35 years, the Muslim religious authority known as the Waqf, to which Israel has given custody of the Temple Mount, has been periodically digging it up — illegally. (That’s the Israel Supreme Court’s characterization.) Several years ago, for example, the Waqf used mechanical equipment to dig a huge hole for a wide stairway down to a greatly expanded underground mosque, dumping hundreds of tons of dirt from the mount into the adjacent Kidron Valley.

When Zachi Zweig, a graduate student of Barkay’s, started looking for antiquities in the Waqf dump, the Israel Antiquities Authority had Zweig arrested for digging without a permit. Since then, Barkay has obtained the permit and, with Zweig, they have engaged in a multiyear project sifting this archaeologically rich dump. They have found thousands of ancient artifacts going back 3,000 years, including a seal impression of a probable brother of someone mentioned in the Bible.

Now the Waqf wants to lay new telephone and electric lines on the mount. Under Israeli law, in an area that might contain antiquities, the trench must be excavated by professional archaeologists. (The same holds true for construction: Such areas must first be professionally excavated, most often by the Israel Antiquities Authority.)

The Waqf simply ignores this law, however. A few weeks ago, they began digging a utilities trench almost 5-feet deep, often going down to bedrock. Worse still, the workmen were using mechanical equipment — an anathema to any professional archaeologist in such a site.

It’s certainly all right for the Waqf to lay new telephone and electrical lines. But there would seem to be no reason why the trench could not first be excavated by professional archaeologists who dig by hand and with great care to document the context of all discoveries — no reason except the Waqf’s unwillingness to recognize Israeli law.

On July 18, 2007, I published an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal titled, “Biblical Destruction,” protesting the Waqf excavation. It has had no effect. Since then, the excavation has been extensively expanded.

Observers have reported seeing numerous antiquities in the excavated dirt and in the trench, including mosaic tesserae, a quantity of pottery vessels (some of which had been freshly broken by the tractor scoop) and carefully carved and decorated building stones typical of the Second Temple period.

Last week, as I said earlier, the excavation hit part of an unusually wide wall that has now been destroyed. It could well have been part of the Temple complex.

Barkay and Mazar continue to protest vehemently and publicly. But they have mostly been met with silence.

The archaeological community as such has not raised its voice. Each archaeologist is concerned with his or her own dig, not someone else’s violation of the antiquities law. And why jeopardize a career by making trouble, when all the well-known political names and faces remain silent?

Yes, a few newspaper articles have appeared, but nothing serious. The Antiquities Authority has been queried on several occasions about this violation of Israel’s antiquities laws on Judaism’s holiest site, but the response has always been the same: “No comment.”

This thundering silence perhaps explains why the Israeli Embassy in Washington has not provided an account or explanation of this depredation on the Temple Mount. Why raise questions and create a problem when nobody really cares?


Hershel Shanks is editor of Biblical Archaeology Review and author of “Jerusalem’s Temple Mount — From Solomon to the Golden Dome” (Continuum, 2007).

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