JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — February 19, 2019 — The Palestinians entered the site, also known as the Gate of Mercy, despite reports that Israel and Jordan had reached understandings to end the crisis over the area.
Dozens of Palestinians tried to force their way into the Golden Gate site on the Temple Mount on Tuesday, triggering scuffles with police officers, eyewitnesses said.
According to the eyewitnesses, a number of Palestinians were arrested and lightly wounded during the confrontation, which erupted after the protesters removed an iron gate the police had placed at the entrance to the controversial site. One of the wounded men was identified as Nasser Qos, a senior Fatah official in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Palestinians entered the site – also known as the Gate of Mercy – just hours after Palestinian sources said Israel and Jordan had reached understandings to end the crisis over the site, which erupted on Monday after another attempt by worshipers to pray at the area.
The sources warned, however, that the continued closure of the site by the Jerusalem Police to Muslim worshipers would spark violent clashes at the site and in other parts of east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians claim that Israel is planning to turn the site into a section for Jewish prayers.
As part of the reported understandings, police officers on Tuesday removed chains from the iron gate leading to the site, which had been ordered closed by a court because of illegal construction and excavations by the (Jerusalem) Wakf Islamic religious trust.
The current crisis is the second of its kind on the Temple Mount in recent weeks. Last month, a scuffle broke out between Muslim protesters and police forces after Wakf guards tried to prevent a policeman wearing a kippah from entering the Dome of the Rock.
The two incidents are seen in the context of the Wakf’s effort to assert its absolute control over the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary).
The Jordanian-controlled Wakf Department in east Jerusalem has been facing growing criticism from Palestinians for its perceived failure to confront Israeli “provocations” at the holy site, including visits by Jewish groups and restrictions on construction and excavation work there. Some Palestinians have even gone as far as accusing the Wakf of being in “collusion” with Israel to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Although the Wakf is supposed to be the sole authority controlling and managing the site, there are other groups that have long been active on the Temple Mount.
These groups include the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah faction, the Islamic Movement-Northern Branch in Israel and Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist organization that seeks to reestablish the Islamic Caliphate. In addition, a group called the Youth of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) has also been trying to establish a presence on the Temple Mount. The group consists of dozens of east Jerusalem men and women who call themselves “Defenders of Al-Aqsa Mosque” and “Mourabitoun” (The Steadfast).
All these groups played a major role in the protests that erupted after Israel installed metal detectors and security cameras at one of the entrances to the Temple Mount in 2017. The Israeli move came after terrorists shot and killed two police officers on the Temple Mount compound. The protests ended after Israel removed the equipment.
Although tensions have persisted over the continued Jewish visits to the Temple Mount, the situation there has since been relatively calm in the past few months.
It now seems, however, that some Palestinians are again trying to trigger a crisis with Israel over the Temple Mount.
The timing is evidently linked to the upcoming elections. These Palestinians believe that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is keen on avoiding a major confrontation over the holy site ahead of the vote. They believe that this is the right time to try and change the status quo by embarking on moves like the one to reopen the Golden Gate site.
The Netanyahu government’s subsequent decision to remove the metal detectors and security cameras sent a message to some Palestinians that Israel caves into pressure and threats. The Palestinian groups that are active on the Temple Mount believe that similar protests and threats of violence would force Israel to reconsider its measures and policies towards the holy site.
Some Palestinian activists are also hoping that renewed tensions at the Temple Mount will harm relations between Israel and Jordan, which considers itself the official religious custodian over the holy site in Jerusalem. Although the Jordanians have been publicly voicing strong criticism of Israeli measures at the Temple Mount, their senior government officials have nevertheless been engaged in behind-the-scenes contacts with Israel to ease tensions and prevent a major confrontation there.
The renewed tensions on the Temple Mount show that the crisis surrounding the Golden Gate has not yet been solved. Judging from the reactions and statements of Palestinian officials and activists, the threat of a major confrontation over the Temple Mount remains as serious and imminent as ever.