Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
It’s extremely important to remember where exactly the current crisis about metal detectors on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem came from – to recall it all started when guns were smuggled onto the Temple Mount and actually used against two Israeli policemen. Officers Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan were killed as a result of these illegal firearms that were brought in to a holy site.
This should not have come as a surprise. We’ve been witnessing over the last two decades that holy sites across the Middle East have lost their traditional immunity. There has been a tangible escalation of attacks on holy sites across the Middle East. In South Asia everyone remembers at the time of 9/11 the Taliban attacked 2,000 year-old Buddhist statues in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan that were dynamited. Closer to home we also recall that there were attacks in areas controlled by the Palestinians such as Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus and, perhaps more notably, the attack by a joint Hamas-Fatah cell against the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where clergy were taken hostage and many religious icons were stolen.
What hasn’t been sufficiently noted is that in this period of increasing attacks on holy sites, mosques have also become a fair target for Islamic extremists. Even this past year, Saudi Arabia foiled a suicide attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca – the holiest site for Muslims around the world. A year ago there was another attack on the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina where four Saudi Arabian security officials were killed. Everyone’s been talking about Mosul lately because of the victory over ISIS. Recall that this year the 800-year-old Great Mosque of al-Nuri was attacked by that organization and destroyed. So not only have churches been attacked, not only have religious sites of the Jews been attacked, and Buddhists, but even mosques have been attacked, whether they are Sunni or Shiite.
Given this wave of attacks, all governments around the Middle East feel the necessity to put in place security measures that will prevent jihadi organizations from carrying out their plans. Take Saudi Arabia, the caretaker of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, where it has put in place a system of 5,000 security cameras and an elaborate command center where the entire mosque area can be monitored using electronic systems. The use of electronic systems to counter the efforts to attack holy sites is well-established and Israel had to find a method that would be relevant for deterring and preventing attacks against the holy sites in Jerusalem and in particular the Temple Mount.
It’s clear as day now that the problem on the Temple Mount over the last two weeks had nothing to do with metal detectors. Anything Israel would try to put in place would produce a very strong reaction for reasons that have nothing to do with electronics and preventing terror. What has been motivating many young Palestinians who are protesting outside of the Temple Mount area has been a complete falsehood spread by certain organizations in the Middle East to the effect that it is Israel’s intention to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque. This myth was originally begun by the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini back in 1929. It has stayed with Muslim extremists since that time, and every four or five years returns in greater force. The person who has been behind spreading this falsehood is Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel’s northern branch, who for the last decade has been convening over large rallies with huge posters asserting that Al-Aqsa is in danger. Beyond Israel, there’s Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood who sits in Qatar, who has been asserting that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is in greater danger than ever before.
Young people hear these stories and are convinced that if they don’t take active measures, then their cherished mosque is at risk. The main theme of the incitement over the last two weeks is that the metal detectors were introduced to the Temple Mount in order to desecrate a religious holy site. The exact opposite is true. The metal detectors were put in place to protect a holy site – a holy site for Jews, for Muslims, and for Christians. So even if you solve the problem of what kind of sensors you want to put in place to prevent terrorists from coming up on the Temple Mount, even if you remove the metal detectors, you’re going to be left with the incitement that is the principal cause of the violence to begin with. This is why when the issue of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is discussed at the UN, in Washington, London, or Paris, if the issue of religious incitement is not explicitly addressed, then the seeds will still be left in place for the next round of violence ahead.