Ari Ballaban — In Conversation
Escalation of Tensions and Violence in Israel: A Timeline of Events Following Temple Mount Shootings
On Friday July 14, two Israeli Police officers were murdered in a terrorist attack near the Temple Mount. To put this clearly: Muslim terrorists desecrated a Muslim site with violence, murdering two Israeli Druze policemen who were protecting the site. Israel increased security to protect the Muslim holy site from violence, a common practice at holy sites all over the world. Since Friday, violence and tensions have been on the rise, including a number of uprisings, subsequent terror attacks, and a diplomatic clash with Jordan.
Together with our partners at the Israel Action Network and the Jewish Federations of North America, we wanted to offer this concise timeline of events and additional context. We mourn the innocent lives lost in the ongoing unrest, and we pray for peace, reason, and calm to prevail.
Timeline of Events
On Friday, July 14, 2017, three Arab Israelis shot and killed two Israeli police officers near the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem using weapons that had been smuggled into the holy site. The shooters fled into the Temple Mount, where they were killed after an exchange of gunfire with the police.
The Temple Mount, the location of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is the holiest site to Judaism and the third holiest site in Islam, following Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
In response to the attack, police temporarily closed the Temple Mount to search for weapons and investigate whether the attackers received help from inside the compound. This was the first time that the Temple Mount had been closed since 1969. Before reopening the Temple Mount to worshipers and visitors on Sunday, July 16, the Police installed metal detectors and checkpoints at the entrances to the Temple Mount.
Muslim and Arab leaders from around the world protested Israel’s actions to close the Temple Mount and install new security measures. The Waqf, the Jordanian authority that administers the Temple Mount, called on worshipers to refrain from passing through the metal detectors. Palestinian Fatah and Hamas leaders called for “days of rage” against the Israeli forces. Muslim and Arab leaders claimed that the measure was part of a slow takeover of the site by Israel.
Clashes with police in and around Jerusalem escalated that following week, culminating in severe clashes on Friday, July 21 . Three Palestinians were killed and more than 200 injured in clashes with the Israeli police.
Later Friday evening, a Palestinian terrorist enraged by the rising tensions in Jerusalem, stabbed to death three Israelis as they were preparing to sit down for Shabbat dinner in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.
On Saturday, July 22, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that he had suspended cooperation, including security coordination, with Israel. This is the first time in over a decade that security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians has been suspended. Despite the announcement, Israeli and Palestinian officials reportedly met to discuss ways to reduce the tensions.
On Sunday, July 23, Israeli police installed high-tech security cameras at entrances to the Temple Mount. The Waqf opposed the installation of these cameras.
Tensions over the Temple Mount seemingly spilled over into Jordan as well. On Sunday night, an Israeli security officer at the embassy in Amman was attacked by a Jordanian worker who had entered the embassy compound for routine furniture replacement. The worker attacked the Israeli security official from the rear and began stabbing him with a screwdriver. The security official, who was slightly wounded, defended himself. During the incident, the Jordanian worker was killed, and the building’s landlord was injured as well. He later died of his wounds.
On Monday, July 24, Israel’s security cabinet decided to remove the metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount, and replace them with smart, less obtrusive surveillance methods. On Monday night, personnel from the Israeli Embassy in Jordan, headed by Ambassador Einat Shlain, crossed the Allenby Bridge into Israel from Jordan. Among the staff was the security guard who was injured in the stabbing attack in Amman. All are well. The return of the Embassy personnel was made possible thanks to the close cooperation that took place between Israel and Jordan.
On Tuesday, July 25, the metal detectors were removed from the entrance to the Temple Mount. Some of the security cameras Israel installed overlooking the entrance to the complex are also being removed. Despite the removal of metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount, Muslim worshipers are still refusing to enter the compound due to the presence of the newly installed smart-cameras at the site. The worshipers have said that they refuse to enter the holy place if security cameras and other sensors and security equipment put in place over the last ten days remained in place. The Waqf Islamic trust, which administers the site, said a decision to continue the boycott was pending a review of the new Israeli security arrangements there.
The mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, declared on Thursday, July 26, that the Muslim boycott of the Temple Mount due to new Israeli security measures has ended, after police removed all infrastructure placed recently at entrances to the holy site.
That evening, however, after returning to pray at the Temple Mount following two weeks of riots and violence, Muslim worshipers once again clashed with IDF security forces at the site. During the riots that broke out inside the compound, many young people threw stones and bottles at the forces, who responded by means of dispersing disturbances, including stun grenades.
Slain Police Officers from Israel’s Druze Community
The two police officers killed, Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan and Master Sgt, Haiel Sitawe, were both veteran police officers from Israel’s Druze community. Shnaan is the son of former Labor MK Shachiv Shnaan. Israeli politicians and leaders visited the mourning families throughout the week and expressed their solidarity with Israel’s Druze community. While ethnically Arab, the Druze community has a tense history with Muslim communities.
Read our statement about the attack on these two officers here.
Authority over the Temple Mount
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, where the two ancient Temples stood. Known as Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims, the site today is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, archaeological sites, museums and schools. The Al Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam, following Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Israel controls access to the Temple Mount compound and is responsible for its security. Inside the compound’s nine gates, the Jerusalem Awqaf Department, controlled and funded entirely by the Jordanian government, manages the site.
Israel annexed the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem in the months following the June 1967 war. While Israel claimed sovereignty over the Old City including the Temple Mount, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan decided that the Jordanian Waqf would continue to the administer the site in order to avoid a major conflagration between Israel and the Muslim world. Jews would be allowed to visit but not pray on the site. Israel would be responsible for security, while the Waqf would maintain authority for what goes in inside the compound.
This arrangement was formalized in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. In the agreement, Israel agreed that Jordan would continue to administer the site until Israel and the Palestinians concluded negotiations over the status of Jerusalem. The 1994 agreement also allowed the Palestinians to appoint the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a leading Islamic authority in Jerusalem.
For years, non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount have had to undergo security screening and inspection for religious articles. Muslim visitors have not had to pass through metal detectors since 2000 when the Jordanian government demanded that Israel remove security checkpoints around the Temple Mount.