Safety In The Holy Land, Where A Hill Is The Center Of Attention

Jerusalem from Mount of Olives, tb010210541
Temple Mount and Dome of The Rock (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)

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The Temple Mount, The Center Of Attention In A World With A Short Attention Span

If you were one of the thousands googling about safety in the Holy Land the last two weeks in July, the Jerusalem Temple Mount incident probably caught your interest. For two weeks, Israel was pretty much at the top of everyone’s news cast. Tensions surrounding the Temple Mount, which erupted after two Druze security guards were shot to death and caused Israel to install tough security measures, led to fears that the clash could erupt into the 3rd Intifada,  for generally, any problem having to do with the Temple Mount escalates into serious fighting…usually just short of all out war.  When the conflict subsided within seven days, many were left scratching their heads and wondering what was different this time around.

Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock from north, tb012301203
Temple Mount and Dome of The Rock (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
God’s Reasons and Man’s Reasons

As to why this time did not ignite the 3rd Intifada, there are many reasons. But any and all of them must be couched in terms of for the time being…for the situation will always be unstable and could erupt at any moment. If you want to know the why of that…read Genesis, God declared that the descendants of Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, would live in open hostility towards each other (Genesis 16: 12), so a lasting peace, brokered by man, is just not in the cards.

May 2016 Tour
Ezer, center in purple shirt, on the Temple Mount by Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount
Really! Its Safe And Secure

So, is it safe to travel to Israel, the Holy Land? Yes, the reality on the ground is that the Holy Land is a secure and safe destination for visitors. Foreign governments rarely include Israel proper in travel alerts, instead, travel advisories specifically warn against visiting the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (which includes Biblical Samaria) and recently, the Sinai Peninsula. In fact, 99% of sites in the Holy Land that you want to see are extremely safe, while others that lie in the West Bank, including Abraham’s Tomb, Shechem, Hebron, Jericho and even Bethlehem, should be visited with caution.

Western Wall prayer plaza, tb071207104
The Western Wall Plaza (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
Who, What & Where

For a short read on the issues surrounding the Temple Mount, essentially the Who, What and Where of that particular piece of real estate, read our post “The Temple Mount, A Hill, A Powder Keg, Metal Detectors and the Status Quo.”   No matter what the dispute appears to be about, metal detectors, Jews on the Temple Mount, tunnels uncovered and excavated, any kind of prayer other than Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount, changing the “status quo” or other headlines, the real rationale for the disagreement is about who was there first and who holds title to Mount Moriah.

Temple Mount eastern wall from south, tb091306325
Temple Mount (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
Middle East Hegemony

But back to why this particular incident did not spiral into another serious uprising. The paramount explanation has to do with a wider power play taking place throughout the Middle East. There appear to be four groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, Iran and the Camp of Stability  vying for supremacy in the Middle East and that seems to be taking the focus off the in-country Palestinian-Israeli relationship.

Jerusalem from south, tb051907748
Jerusalem (Courtesy of Bible Lands Pictorial Library)
Game Of Camps

In fact most of the struggles throughout the Middle East can be viewed through the lens of a gigantic battle for domination between these four camps. Although ISIS did not appear to be involved in July’s Temple Mount situation, all three of the other groups were directly involved. Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, which includes Hamas, Turkey and Qatar, had a vested interest in fanning the flames of chaos and violence while the Camp of Stability comprised of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, had an interest in containing the violence. For this Game of Camps, the Palestinian Authority is included in the Camp of Stability as they do not want to side with Hamas or Iran, but that puts them on the side of Israel…a really uncomfortable place to be. In other words, the major players that used to be actively involved in the Palestinian question were otherwise occupied with more long-range purposes!

Lack Of Will & Capability

Two other lesser reasons add to why this Temple Mount tension did not spiral into a 3rd Intifada, lack of will and lack of capability. It seems the man in the street is not rushing to the barricades and confronting the authorities. In all the previous times, the public bore the brunt of the violence and that has proved to be a major deterrent.

As to having weapons and armament capability, the Israeli Defense Forces have decimated the Palestinian community’s ability to arm itself. Since the 2nd Intifada, 17 years ago, the weapons factories and bomb-making workshops that existed in the West Bank are nowhere near their previous capacities. In fact, the weapon of choice today is generally a car or a butcher knife….something the IDF cannot control, but much less lethal.

Read on for a timeline of the two weeks in July 2017 when the Temple Mount was the center of attention in a world with a short attention span!

July 14, 2017

Netanyahu and Abbas Work Together After The Temple Mount Attack

Three terrorists, Israeli Arab cousins, shot two Israeli policemen near the Lion’s Gate, just adjacent to the Temple Mount on Friday, July 14th.  Both policemen were Druze, an secretive Islamic sect that peacefully lives in Israel and supports the nation.  Druze soldiers, policemen and security guards are an integral part of Israel’s defense forces and are highly thought of in the military.  This maybe why they were targeted by the terrorists.

After shooting the two Druze policemen, the terrorists ran down an alleyway and back onto the Temple Mount.  Apparently they had hidden themselves and their weapons on the Temple Mount overnight.  The security for Muslim worshippers and visitors is not as stringent as the security for Tourists, Christians and Jews to enter the Temple Mount.  In fact, the entry places are not the same, Tourists, Christians and Jews can only enter from the Mughrabi Bridge near the Western Wall, while the Muslim public are able to use eleven gates to access the Temple Mount.

Israel closed the Temple Mount to any visitors until Sunday the 16th in order to search for more weapons and investigate the incident.  The closure has caused Muslim nations and groups to publicly lash out at Israel, even though their condemnations of Israel did not contain any mention of the terrorist act.

One good thing to come out of this is that Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and Palestinian President Abbas did talk on the phone.   According to Haarretz Newspaper, The two leaders decided over the weekend to diverge from their usual habit; instead of clashing and avoiding dialogue, they cooperated to resolve the crisis and prevent the volcano from erupting.

 

July 18, 2017

Temple Mount Reopens With New Security Measures

After the attack in which three terrorists shot two Israeli Policemen, the Temple Mount was closed to all visitors.  It opened on Sunday, July 18th with new security measures in place, metal detectors and security cameras were installed at three gates used by the Muslim public.  Jews, Christians and Tourists still will use the Mughrabi Gate to enter the Temple Mount, that gate has always had much stricter security measures than the gates used by the Muslim public. The new security measures have been widely condemned, just as the closure, by the Jordanian WAQF Trust that administers the Temple Mount and others in the Muslim world.  While the WAQF administers access and other aspects of the Temple Mount, Israel has maintained the security of the area since 1967.

For more information on the attack and other aspects of the Temple Mount, read the story below from July 14th.

July 21, 2017

Tensions Remain High and Status Quo Unchanged

No, Jews still can’t pray at Judaism’s holiest site, but that status quo was briefly abrogated on Thursday, July 20.  For the first time since the Second Temple stood in all its glory, Jews were able to walk the Temple Mount freely when the Muslim authority (WAQF) boycotted their administrative duties in the wake of Israeli installed metal detectors.

The Islamic WAQF, a Jordanian trust which controls the Temple Mount, immediately and furiously rejected the use of the detectors, calling the security measure “Israeli aggression”. The WAQF called for a Muslim boycott of the site and scuffles between Arabs (NOT Arabs and Israelis) broke out as WAQF security prevented Muslims from entering through the metal detectors and ascending the Temple Mount.

The sudden lack of WAQF guards on the Temple Mount led to an unusual situation. For the first time in decades, Jews were not followed by WAQF guards preventing them from praying.  This lack of WAQF security, who also follow Christian tourists as they visit the Temple Mount, also allowed Christians the privilege, however short-lived, to pray on this holy site.

Israel is partially exercising its sovereignty by refusing to remove newly reinstalled metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount and that decision has resulted in violence as Muslims enter the Old City and the Temple Mount for Friday prayers.

Many think that it was Israel’s acquiescence months ago to Muslim demands that it remove metal detectors that facilitated last Friday’s deadly terrorist shooting that took the lives of two Israeli Druze police officers guarding the holy site.  Metal detectors have always been used to check Jewish visitors and tourists as they entered through the Mughrabi Bridge, the only access allowed for non-Muslim visitors.  However until this recent terrorist attack, Muslims accessed the Temple Mount without undergoing any security checks through eleven gates open to only Muslims. After the deadly attack, Israel promptly put the metal detectors back in place.  Due to Israel’s refusal to remove the metal detectors, PA President Abbas froze all contacts with Israel, despite previously joining with Prime Minister Netanyahu in calling for cooperation and prevention of further violence immediately after the terrorist attack.

As of late Friday, 3 Palestinians and 3 Israelis had been killed in the violence.  On Saturday, the situation remained tense in Jerusalem’s Old City and especially near and on the Temple Mount.

July 26, 2017

Metal Detectors Removed Amid Tension On Both Sides

Israel moved to diffuse tension surrounding the Temple Mount by removing the catalyst, the metal detectors that were installed at all gates the Muslims use to enter the Jerusalem compound that contains the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque.  Israel is said to be looking into more technical security measures, however, the WAQF (the Jordanian Trust that administers the Temple Mount) have rejected ANY security measures for Muslims, continuing to order Muslim worshippers to not enter the Temple Mount for prayers.

Not all Israelis or Israeli security officials agree with the decisions, 1) to install the metal detectors or 2) remove them, that have angered the Arab world.   Once put in place many view the decision to remove the security measures as a capitulation to terrorism.  Others are unhappy with the decision in the first place….obviously this is a complicated and emotionally charged situation.  The Temple Mount is and has always been a powder keg in Israeli-Arab relations….it will remain so even after this situation has run it’s course. For tourists and pilgrims to the Holy Land, this episode surrounding the Temple Mount and Jerusalem is troubling.  While tensions are still high in the Old City, there have been photos of tourists still visiting sites.  You must always be aware of your surroundings and your guide’s first responsibility is to know where to take you and when to take you there!  It would not help either side, both economically and in world opinion, if tourists or pilgrims to the Holy Land were caught in the middle of this current stand-off.

July 30, 2017

Tensions Abate On The Temple Mount In Jerusalem

Tensions are quieting down on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem after 15 days of unrest after two Druze security guards were killed by three terrorist who fled across the Temple Mount before being shot.

Friday, the day of Muslim prayers, happened at the Al Aqsa Mosque without incident.  The authorities were prepared for more trouble, but the people assembled left the area peacefully after praying.

This coming week is important in Jewish history, and the authorities continue to stay on high alert.  The Fast of the Ninth of Av happens this Tuesday, a day that commemorates the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples, the exile of Jews from the Land of Israel and other catastrophes.  Many Jews are expected to visit the Old City, the Western Wall and some hope to actually be able to stand on the Temple Mount itself. They can pray at the Western Wall but not on the Temple Mount. We all need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, not just during times of unrest but continually.

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