The Jewish High Holidays will begin next week on the evening of September 25 with the observance of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) and continue through the end of Sukkot and Simchat Torah on October 17. In recent years, Jewish and Muslim holidays have become flashpoints for unrest in and around the Temple Mount/Haram a-Sharif
(TM/HAS) often escalating into clashes and violence. The upcoming holidays also coincide with the weeks leading up to the Israeli national elections, which will likely spur right-wing politicians and activists affiliated with them to capitalize on the timing and take measures to further challenge the status quo on the TM/HAS. The continued Israeli military raids in Areas A and B of the West Bank and shootings by Palestinians at Israeli forces and civilians create an additional threat, which can destabilize the Holy Esplanade, Jerusalem and the region.
Acts of Provocation to Weaken Status Quo
Indeed, Temple Movement activists have already been increasing acts of provocation in defiance of the Status Quo. The Temple Movements have for years worked to overturn this arrangement
, pushing for Jewish prayer on the Mount, establishing a spatial and/or temporal division of the space, and ultimately rebuilding the temple in place of the Dome of the Rock. As was affirmed by consecutive Israeli Prime Ministers, the Status Quo affords only Muslims with worship rights while all others, including Jews, have only visitation rights. In recent years, heightened support of the Temple Movements and their agenda from the rightwing political establishment
along with increased cooperation with the Israel police
have contributed to the dismantling of the status quo.
Over the past few weeks, there have been daily occurrences of Temple Movement activists prostrating in the Holy Esplanade, audibly reciting Jewish prayers, or attempting to blow the Shofar (a ram’s horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies particularly during the High Holidays).
Since last week, activists have been daily entering Bab al-Rahma, one of the most important Muslim cemeteries adjacent to the external eastern wall of the Mount, and blowing shofars there.
Increased Cooperation between Temple Movements & Israeli Authorities
This past week, the Jerusalem Police Chief, Doron Turjeman, briefed journalists on police preparations in Jerusalem and specifically on the Temple Mount/Haram a-Sharif in lead up to the Jewish High Holidays. According to Israeli media, Turjeman commended a body of the Temple Movements known as the "Temple Mount Administration" for their cooperation. Turjeman described this group as the police's partner in working "together to facilitate an orderly ascent [of Jews to the Holy compound]." He likewise mentioned that the police meet regularly with the "administration" to coordinate in advance. Despite its seemingly official-sounding name, the "Temple Mount Administration" is not a state body, but rather an activist group comprised of representatives of various Temple Movements. Turjeman's statements signify the first time the Israel police has publicly admitted to its coordination with the Temple Movements, going as far as even calling them “partners.”
Moreover, on September 20, the Israeli media reported on a meeting held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly
between Prime Minister Lapid and Jordan's King Abdullah II in which the topic of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif was raised. According to an official, Lapid apprised the King that the number of Jewish visitors to the TM/HAS is expected to increase during the upcoming Jewish holidays, as is according to custom. Therefore, “the Prime Minister expects Jordan to refrain from attacking Israel on this front and denounce all incitement surrounding the Mount.
If Lapid did indeed convey this, this is an alarming development on the part of the Israeli government and its policy with regard to the TM/HAS. Such a statement communicates that Israel demands Jordan essentially "back" the growing number of Temple Movement activists and their supporters who flock to the Holy Compound as part of their ongoing campaign against the Status Quo and Jordan's custodianship of the site. Furthermore, such a message stands in complete contradiction to Lapid’s attempts to reassure Jordan before Passover and Ramadan six months ago that Israel is indeed committed to uphold the Status Quo.
Undermining the Jordanian Waqf
The Temple Movements are ratcheting up their provocations, which are intended to both continue to dismantle the Status Quo as well as elicit a Palestinian protest in response. Temple Movements are aware that police will act forcefully against any form of Palestinian protest (including nonviolent protest), thereby leading to escalation and the possible destabilization of the situation.
Concurrently, in contradiction to its sympathetic approach to the Temple Movements, the police continue to undermine the Jordanian Waqf. In recent weeks, the police have issued orders banning senior Waqf officials from the TM/HAS during the upcoming Jewish High Holidays. The Israel police and the government are neither taking the necessary measures to curb Temple Movement efforts nor develop coordination mechanisms with the Jordanian Waqf to resolve initial conflicts. Instead, the police are cooperating with the Temple Movements and are doing so ever more publicly, which contributes to their legitimization and mainstreaming.
Prime Minister Lapid's reported recent message to King Abdullah likewise reinforces the concern that these moves are being carried out as part of Israeli government policy.
As such, these actions are laying the ground for what could devolve into a renewed crisis surrounding the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. In order for such a crisis to be averted, Israeli authorities should be immediately called upon to take the following measures:
Written by Ir Amim Senior Field Researcher, Aviv Tatarsky
- Cease all daily prayers and ritual activity by Jewish groups on the Holy Esplanade
- Curb opportunities for Temple Movement activists to deliberately breach the Status Quo (i.e. limiting the size of groups of Jewish visitors to enable the police to effectively prevent violations and enforce compliance).
- End the police's close coordination with the Temple Movements. These extreme political activists should not be part of decision-making and management of the most sensitive Holy site and inarguably, the epicenter of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
- Rebuild a partnership with the Jordanian Waqf. Only such partnership can reduce Muslim concerns. The Waqf's involvement can be crucial to avoid initial conflicts from escalating, yet after Israeli authorities have worked to undermine its authority, it is far more difficult for the Waqf to mitigate tensions.