Background: The Status Quo Arrangement
The Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem is the holiest site in Judaism and third holiest in Islam.
Two Jewish Temples have stood on the site, which is believed to be the place where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. It has served as a major symbol of Jewish identity towards where Jews have prayed throughout the millennia.
Muslims, who refer to Jerusalem as “al-Quds” (the holy place), believe the holy site to be the spot where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the rock which the Dome of the Rock currently envelops. The Noble Sanctuary comprises the Dome of the Rock and the venerated Al Aqsa mosque.
Following Israel’s capture of the Temple Mount during the 1967 Six Day War, the government handed day-to-day control of the area to the Muslim Waqf religious authorities, overseen by the Jordanian government. Israel retains security control of the area. Fifty years later, this policy, known as the “status quo”, continues to be the policy of the Israeli government.
While many Jews believe it is forbidden to ascend to the Temple Mount for religious purity reasons, the Waqf forbids Jews from praying while on the Mount, a situation that is controversial among some Israeli Jews who believe it is their right to have full access to their holy site.
In recent years, there have been accusations among Palestinians and across the Muslim world of a conspiracy by Israel to “Judaize” Jerusalem, particularly the Temple Mount. These charges have been propagated by Muslim political leaders and religious figures, and have been spread through the media and popular culture.
Tensions have also increased due to recent calls by some Israeli Jews for greater access to the Temple Mount with the right to pray at the holy site.
Despite domestic pressures, and increased security concerns, the Israeli government has repeatedly publicly affirmed that there will be no change to the status quo agreement. Yet widespread conspiracy theories about nefarious efforts by Jews plotting to remove Muslims from the site continue to reverberate throughout Arab and Muslim world.
The Current Crisis
Tensions erupted with a brazen terror attack on July 14, 2017, when three Israeli-Arabs from the village of Umm al-Fahm shot and killed two Israeli police officers guarding the Temple Mount area. After they attacked the officers, they ran back inside the holy site and were killed by Israeli security forces. The victims, Hayel Satawi, 30, and Kamil Shanan, 22, were members of Israel’s Druze community.
In the aftermath of the attack, Israel instituted enhanced security measures at the holy site, including temporarily closing the Temple Mount and installing metal detectors. These steps were met with significant resistance from Muslim worshipers, as well as Muslims across the Middle East, who refused to enter the Temple Mount until they were removed. Over the ensuing weeks, protests were held across Jerusalem and in locations around the world (including violent demonstrations outside synagogues in Istanbul).
On Thursday July 20, the Israeli security cabinet decided to keep the metal detectors in place, and on Friday morning Muslim worshipers clashed with Israeli security forces near the Temple Mount and in other areas around East Jerusalem. The violence resulted in around 300 wounded Palestinians and at least three dead.
That same evening, a 19 year old Palestinian, Omar al-Abed, broke into the Halamish home of the Salomon family as they gathered to eat Shabbat dinner and celebrate the birth of their new grandchild. He stabbed and killed Yosef Salomon, his daughter Chaya and son Elad. Social media postings by al-Abed indicated he was inspired by the Palestinian incitement against Israel, and during an initial investigation following the attack, he admitted to purchasing the knife two days prior in order to commit a terror attack in response to events surrounding the Temple Mount.
In a related development, on Sunday July 23, a Jordanian working within the compound housing the Israeli Embassy in Amman stabbed an Israeli security guard, lightly wounding him. The guard shot and killed the attacker, and accidently killed another nearby individual. Intensive diplomatic efforts resulted in Israel removing the metal detectors and the return of the Israeli guard and other diplomatic staff to Israel. Other security mechanisms, including the installation of cameras, were also subsequently abandoned by Israel, though clashes continued throughout the week.
On Friday July 28, prayers were held on the Temple Mount without incident, though clashes between Palestinians and IDF troops occurred throughout the West Bank and near the Gaza boarder, resulting in injuries and at least one Palestinian killed. Additionally, a Palestinian was killed by IDF troops at the Gush Etzion junction after he attempted to stab them.
Throughout this period, the Israeli government and security officials worked to calm the tensions along with regional figures like Jordanian King Abdullah and Muslim religious leaders, as well as with the assistance of US government officials.
A number of figures in the Arab and Muslim world contributed to anti-Israel incitement during this period.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced the end of diplomatic and security contact with Israel and the Palestinian leadership called for a series of “days of rage” in order to protest Israel’s policies.
Israeli-Arab MK Osama Saadi of the Joint List warned that if Israel didn’t remove the metal detectors, “the whole Arab world will rise up as one” against it.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on the wider Muslim world to “confront the Israeli aggression and terrorism at Al-Aqsa.”
Turkish President Erdogan declared: “Israel, which shows no respect for the Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, will see itself suffer the most damage” and “Israel is harming Jerusalem’s Islamic character. Nobody should expect us to remain silent against the double standards in Jerusalem.”
Select International Protests and Reactions
A number of anti-Israel protests also occurred in cities across the Middle East and Asia, including in Amman, Beirut, Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur.
On Thursday, July 20, several dozen men gathered outside the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul and threw objects at the synagogue and kicked the building’s doors.
On Saturday, July 22, protestors demonstrated outside the Ahrida Synagogue in Istanbul, carrying signs with anti-Israel slogans.
On Friday, July 28, hundreds of Jordanians protested near the Israeli embassy in Amman, calling on the government to cancel its peace treaty with Israel. Protestors changed “death to Israel and “no Zionist embassy on Jordanian soil.”
On Friday, July 28, dozens of Iranian worshipers protested in Tehran against Israel’s actions, chanting “death to Israel” and “death to America.”
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry announced that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation will hold a meeting on August 1st in Istanbul to discuss the Temple Mount tensions.