If Israel wants to install metal detectors at entrances to the Temple Mount in an effort to stem the periodic eruption of violence at that holy site, it should be able to do so without sparking worldwide anger and condemnation. But that is not to be.
We’ve all grown accustomed to walking through metal detectors at airports, at sporting events and as we enter many public and private office buildings. We even get wanded or searched at amusement parks and other large, public venues. The same is true for most cultural and religious sites throughout the Middle East. But that was not the case at the Temple Mount, where the Islamic Waqf — which administers the site under Jordanian custodianship — has not been heavily focused on security.
Following the July 14 attack at the Temple Mount by three Israeli Muslims who killed two Israeli policemen, Israel closed the site in Jerusalem’s Old City for two days — the first time since 1969 — and then reopened it with metal detectors guarding the entrances. The security move was met with international condemnation and a Palestinian “day of rage” that saw Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas call off all contacts with Israel. Last Shabbat evening, a Palestinian terrorist invaded a Jewish home in Halamish, and slaughtered a grandfather and his two children while the family celebrated the birth of a baby boy.
There is no question that Israel’s focus on safety was correct. Enhanced security is necessary for the protection of troops guarding the site, for those who come there to pray and for the thousands of daily visitors at the Western Wall just below it. But Israeli leaders had to know that asserting greater control over the Temple Mount would likely inflame tensions. Indeed, they saw this movie before. Almost two decades ago, future-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sparked the second intifada with nothing more than a very public visit to the holy site, which was seen as a provocative intrusion.
The hypocrisy of the criticism is clear, but we are used to that double standard. Every holy place in the world is carefully guarded, including Mecca, the Vatican and the Kotel. Why should the Temple Mount be different?
Still, the removal on Tuesday of the metal detectors — reportedly done to secure the return of an Israeli embassy guard in Jordan who had killed two Jordanians in self-defense — is concerning. If the detectors were so necessary to prevent the kind of violence that set things in motion two weeks ago, presumably they’d still be necessary now. Granted, we don’t know what Israel’s new “advanced security measures” — referred to in news reports — will do for the site, but it’s hard not to see the removal as a capitulation to Muslim intransigence.
Then again, if both sides have stepped back from the brink for the sake of achieving a shared goal of enhanced security and peace, that would be a good thing. Only time will tell.