Hundreds of Jewish pilgrims visited the plateau of the Temple Mount on Israel’s Jerusalem Day. When the first of the approximately 1,800 people arrived, dozens of Palestinians entrenched themselves in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday and threw stones and firecrackers, the police said. The police responded with stun grenades and locked some Palestinians in the mosque. Several people were arrested and there were no reports of injuries.
The Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City is sacred to both Muslims and Jews and a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the high plateau are the Muslim shrines Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, at the foot of the hill is the Jewish Western Wall – a remnant of the Jewish temple that stood on the mountain in ancient times.
According to the police, around 2,600 Jews visited the holy site by the afternoon. Among them was the far-right MP Itamar Ben-Gwir. When he entered the compound with dozens of supporters under heavy police protection that morning, Palestinians shouted in Arabic, “God is great.” Ben-Gwir shouted back, “The Jewish people live.”
Due to long-standing agreements, Jewish pilgrims are allowed to enter the mountain, but not to pray there. According to the AP news agency, the number of Jewish visitors has increased, and some have been observed praying in secret. Palestinians fear because of such scenes that Israel might try to take over the mountain or parts of it. The Israeli government denies this, saying it is sticking to the status quo.
Police said dozens of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount broke visiting rules on Sunday. The group was expelled from the premises. Several people have been arrested. The police did not say what the violations were.
It also, in a rare move, banned Palestinian journalists from the facility, including an AP photographer. She didn’t give a reason for this. Jordan condemned Ben-Gwir’s visit to the Temple Mount as provocative and exaggerated. This appearance could worsen the situation. Jordan is the administrator of the Islamic sanctuaries on the Temple Mount.
A march by Israeli ultra-nationalists through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City was also planned for Sunday to commemorate Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians who claim Jerusalem as the capital of their future state see it as a provocation. The Israeli police had sent about 3,000 police officers into the city before the march.
Police chief Kobi Schabtai said his people were prepared for anything and would react professionally and quickly if necessary. “We will not allow any rioters or violent criminals to sabotage today’s events and disrupt law and order,” he said.