Muslims keep up shrine boycott despite concessions
Jerusalem — Muslim leaders urged the faithful Tuesday to keep up their prayer protests and avoid entering a contested Jerusalem shrine, even after Israel dismantled metal detectors that initially triggered the tensions.
Israel said it would replace the metal detectors with new security arrangements based on “advanced technology” to be installed in the next six months. This reportedly refers to sophisticated cameras.
Muslim clerics have demanded that Israel restore the situation at the shrine — the third-holiest in Islam and the most sacred in Judaism — to what it was before it installed the metal detectors last week.
The clerics said Tuesday they need time to study the proposed new Israeli measures but suggested a decision could be made by the end of the day.
“We need to know all the details before we decide to pray inside the compound,” said Mohammed Hussein, the top Muslim cleric, or mufti, in Jerusalem.
Muslim worshippers heeded the call, with thousands praying in the streets outside the shrine Tuesday evening, as they had for noon services.
The continued protests meant that the escalating crisis between Israel and the Muslim world, which began in mid-July, was not defused, even after Israel backed down on the metal detectors.
Jordan, the Muslim custodian of the shrine, has played a key role in trying to end the showdown over the holy site.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the kingdom wants “calm to return” to the shrine and to see a historic status quo there restored. Israel must “revoke all new measures on the ground,” he said.
Jordan’s position on the continued Muslim protests and the Israeli security plan was not clear from his comments.
Over the weekend, Jordan’s efforts were complicated by a shooting at the Israeli Embassy in Amman, where an Israeli guard killed two Jordanians after being attacked by one with a screwdriver.
A 24-hour standoff was resolved after a phone call between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jordan initially said the guard could not leave without an investigation, but then allowed him and the rest of the embassy staff to leave to Israel late Monday.
The timing of the events — the evacuation of the diplomats, followed by the removal of the metal detectors — suggested a larger deal had been struck between the two countries. Both Israel and Jordan denied such a trade-off had taken place.
The 37-acre (15-hectare) holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has triggered major confrontations before.
Israel had erected metal detectors at the gates to the Muslim-administered site last week after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli police guards there two days earlier.
The move incensed the Muslim world amid allegations that Israel was trying to expand control over the site under the guise of security — a claim Israel denies.
The installation of the metal detectors set off widespread protests and deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence in the past week. Large crowds of Muslims prayed outside the shrine in protest every day, refusing to pass through the metal detectors.
Israel has denied it has a hidden agenda, portraying the metal detectors as a needed security measure.
However, the Israeli government has come under growing diplomatic pressure to reconsider the decision. It also faced growing domestic criticism that it had acted hastily, without weighing the repercussions of installing new devices at the site.
The diplomatic crisis with Jordan lent more urgency to finding a solution. The deal also coincided with a visit to Israel and Jordan by Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy.
His visit marked the first U.S. involvement since the start of the crisis over the shrine.
Israel’s security Cabinet announced the decision to remove the metal detectors early Tuesday. It said police would increase the deployment of forces until the new measures are in place.
The statement said the government would budget 100 million shekels ($28 million) to implement the security plan over a period of “up to six months.”
Israel’s proposal set off rumors among Palestinians that the “smart cameras” Israel plans to install could see through clothing and could prove particularly embarrassing to women.
Israeli police addressed the rumors Tuesday, saying in a statement that it does not use any type of camera that harms anyone’s privacy “and has no intention of using such cameras in the future.”
The cameras are to protect public safety, the statement said.
Israel captured the Old City compound, along with other territories sought for a Palestinian state, in the 1967 war. Under arrangements put in place then, Muslims administer the site and Jews can visit, but not pray there.
As custodian, Jordan has the final say over Muslim policies at the shrine but also needs to consider public opinion, including among Palestinians in the Holy Land.
Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty draws much of its legitimacy from its role as protector of the holy site.
However, it also maintains strategic, if discreet, security ties with Israel — a relationship that has survived several crises and repeated friction over the Jerusalem shrine.
The swift resolution of the latest diplomatic row reflected the overriding interest by both countries to protect the relationship.
However, the peace treaty with Israel remains unpopular in Jordan, and tensions at the shrine and from the embassy shooting inflamed anti-Israel sentiments.
An acrimonious session of Jordan’s parliament was cut short Tuesday after lawmakers walked out in protest of the government’s handling of the shooting.
The session began with Interior Minister Ghaleb al-Zobi presenting the initial findings of the investigation. He confirmed previous accounts that the guard fired after being attacked with a screwdriver by one of two Jordanians delivering furniture to a residential building linked to the embassy.
The attack was preceded by a verbal dispute, the minister said.
The Jordanian was later identified as Mohammed Jawawdeh, the 16-year-old son of the owner of a furniture store. The owner of the building, who stood next to Jawawdeh during the confrontation, also was hit by gunfire and later died of his wounds.
Hundreds of mourners attended the teen’s funeral. Mourners chanted slogans in support of the Jerusalem shrine and called Jawawdeh a “martyr” who died in defense of the holy site.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu praised the guard for acting “calmly” during the incident. Netanyahu met the guard and Israel’s ambassador to Amman on Tuesday in Jerusalem.