Israel Removes Metal Detectors From Mosque Compound; Islamic Leaders Not Satisfied

By Patrick Goodenough | July 26, 2017 | 4:47 AM EDT

The dome of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, seen from the south. Islam’s third holiest site is located on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Andrew Shiva)

( – Israel’s government bowed Tuesday to Islamic demands to remove anti-terror metal detectors from the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, but protestors turned their attention to a new grievance – plans to install “smart technology” cameras at the site.

Ikrama Sabri, the head of the “Supreme Islamic Committee,” told Palestinian media outlets that the Israeli cabinet decision to remove the walk-through metal detectors and security cameras did not solve the problem.

“Israeli forces removed the metal detectors but they put other dangerous obstacles that change the status quo of the Aqsa mosque,” Sabri was quoted as saying in a news report posted by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Palestinian news outlet Ma’an reported that the head of the Waqf – the Jordanian-administered trust that oversees Islam’s third-holiest site – said it would “study” the situation before deciding whether to allow Muslims to return to the mosque to pray.

Ma’an quoted Jamal Zahalqa, an Israeli Arab lawmaker, as calling the proposed cameras a “new provocation.”

Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas also deferred a decision to restore bilateral relations with Israel while studying the latest development and deciding “where to go from here,” according to the official P.A. news agency Wafa.

Islamic officials had earlier declared it forbidden for Muslims to enter the compound through the metal detectors, prompting protest demonstrations outside that turned violent at times.

Abbas’ Fatah organization also called for a “day of rage,” and its military wing issued a statement praising as “heroic” a Palestinian who stabbed to death three members of an Israeli family during Sabbath dinner in the disputed West Bank north of Ramallah.

The 19-year-old attacker in a Facebook post before the killing had vowed to die as a martyr to “defend” the al-Aqsa mosque.

Israel enhanced the security after three Arabs shot dead two Israeli police officers on July 14, using firearms smuggled into the area revered by Muslims as the “Noble Sanctuary” – the Temple Mount, where the biblical Temples once stood, Judaism’s holiest site.

Muslims quickly accused Israel of changing the “status quo” of the site – a reference to arrangements put in place in 1967: While under overall (disputed) Israeli sovereignty, the hilltop compound is administered by the Waqf. Non-Muslims may visit at designated times – but are forbidden to pray openly.

The U.S. and other governments echoed calls for the “status quo” to be maintained. The Trump administration also deployed presidential special envoy Jason Greenblatt to the region to help find a resolution.

Asked Tuesday whether the administration backs Israel’s decision to remove the metal detectors, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it supports “anything that serves to de-escalate tensions and pave the road for the two sides to come together.”

Asked whether the U.S. believes installation of high-tech cameras amounts to changing the “status quo,” Nauert demurred.

I think that we would leave it to those parties to determine what works for them,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s their decision to make. Both parties have to be able to live with it.”

In 2015 then-Secretary of State John Kerry helped to mediate an agreement between Israel and Jordan to install 24-hour security cameras at the compound, but the proposal was never implemented due to Palestinian objections.

‘Judaizing the Holy City’

As reported earlier, security measures including cameras, metal detectors and scanners, and body searches, exist without undue controversy at prominent mosques around the world – as well as at some of the most revered sites in Judaism and Christianity.

Yet at a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) declared that the installation of metal detectors and cameras “would change the historic status quo, impede the entry of worshipers into [al-Aqsa] and prevent them from practicing their religious rituals …”

Israeli police remove walk-through metal detectors from outside the al-Aqsa mosque compound on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (Photo: Israel Police)

The Islamic bloc praised Palestinians for struggling on behalf of all Muslims “in the face of Israeli colonial schemes aimed at judaizing the Holy City and emptying it of its people.”

The OIC delegates did not explain how the security measures constituted “judaizing” Jerusalem or “emptying it of its people.”

Israel’s cabinet decided at a meeting late Monday to remove the metal detectors and to install advanced technology cameras instead. One Israeli outlet said the cameras would be able to “detect concealed weapons or explosives” and incorporate “advanced facial recognition systems.”

Sabri, the Islamic leader complaining about Israeli plans, has a long history on anti-Israeli incitement. A former P.A.-appointed mufti of Jerusalem, he has also issued fatwas denying any Jewish heritage at the Temple Mount, even declaring that the Western Wall – a remnant of the retaining wall and the closest observant Jews can get to their holiest site – belongs exclusively to Islam.

Shortly after the so-called “Al-Aqsa intifada” (uprising) erupted in late 2000, Sabri told an Egyptian newspaper – in an interview translated by the U.S.-based Middle East Media Research Institute – that children who “martyr” themselves are the most respected, and that mothers of young terrorists “willingly sacrifice their offspring for the sake of freedom.”

Over the next several years the intifada cost more than 1,000 Israeli lives in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks. More than 4,000 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces and more than 500 at the hands of other Palestinians.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow