Breaking taboos at the holy sanctuary

Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan speaks at the funeral of Israeli Druze police officer Kamil Shnaan in the northern village of Hurfeish, July 14, 2017. (Basel Awidat/Flash90). Inset: Master Sgt. Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haeil Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

Israelis Killing Israelis

The shooting of two police officers on the Temple Mount has a motive, a reason and deep roots. But discussing them is considered treason and a justification of terror

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz premium
July 16, 2017

Five armed Israelis were killed Friday at the entrance to the Temple Mount after a brief gun battle. Three Israelis from Umm al-Fahm killed two police officers from the towns of Maghar and Hurfeish in the north. Then the assailants were killed, in a fight over control and presence at this holy and occupied place. The assailants’ motives were religious, nationalist or a combination, but either way, they used violent resistance against the presence of police at the entrance to what they consider a holy site.

Just the ethnic affiliation of the five would be enough to shuffle the deck: This wasn’t a terror attack like the ones we’re used to. The assailants weren’t Palestinians from the territories, their victims weren’t Jewish Israelis, and the operation wasn’t a terror attack; terror is directed against civilians. This wasn’t the beginning of a civil war, but it was a reminder that even in Israel there are people who will join in the armed struggle against the occupation. It’s a reminder that should worry every Israeli.

Temple Mount is the Israeli Jewish name for this site, Haram Al Sharif [Noble Sanctuary] the Muslim/Palestinian name. Palestinians also use Al Aqsa compound.



Israel’s response was knee-jerk, as it always is after an attack where Israelis are killed. It tried to show that what happens after a Druze in uniform is killed is the same as what happens after a Jew in uniform is killed – collective punishment and a harsh response. The Temple Mount was closed for two days because something had to be done, and the mourning tents in Umm al-Fahm were demolished – perhaps as an alternative to demolishing the assailants’ homes – an infuriating infringement on the right to mourn. Would anyone even think to prevent Jews from sitting shivah no matter who they were?

Politicians also vied to see who could condemn the attack in harsher terms, as if that mattered. In the condemnation competition the winner, not surprisingly, for the first time and probably not the last, was Labour’s newly elected chairman and rising star of the Zionist left, Avi Gabbay. He deemed it a “vile terror attack” and called the perpetrators “despicable murderers.”

In his unpromising debut, he competed with the style of Likud’s Ofir Akunis and Gilad Erdan. If this was a “vile” terror attack, what would Gabbay call blowing up a bus filled with people? And what does he say about Border Police officers who from time to time kill a passing Palestinian girl or a boy with a knife? And maybe the assailants don’t have anyone “sending them” on a mission? Maybe there are Arabs who decide on their own? That’s not the way to build a left-centre opposition.

But the comic relief was supplied, as usual, by the politician who’s losing what remains of his self-awareness. Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid wrote, apparently in all seriousness: “In their death they have commanded us to live.” Lapid lives in Ramat Aviv Gimel thanks to the death of the Border Police officers at the entrance to Al-Aqsa. Even that has a certain logic, and everyone recited in a syrupy chorus: the blood alliance with the Druze community, the sacred alliance.

And in the background was the usual and impertinent demand for a condemnation from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and from the Arabs of Israel – in fact, from the whole world, while Israel almost never condemns that acts of its soldiers and police, even when they kill innocent civilians.

And above all, once again, no one is asking why it happened and why it will still happen many more times. The killing of two policemen is a serious incident; the fact that Israelis killed them makes it worse.

But even incidents like these have a motive, a reason and deep roots. Discussing them is considered treason and a justification of terror. Israel doesn’t even ask itself whether it’s worth it to pay the price of this bloodshed for control of Al-Aqsa or the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the refugee camp at Balata or Jenin. It prevents these questions from coming up because it knows full well the answers and it flees them as from fire.

The answers lead to only one conclusion, a conclusion that few Israelis are willing to accept. And so Israel is actually saying: Shed more of our blood. Shed blood until it hurts so much that we can’t escape the answer to the most fateful question of all: Do we want to continue this accursed occupation that will continue costing blood until its last day?

Israeli border police officers stand guard at the closed entrance to the Temple Mount/ Hawam al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, Friday, July 14, 2017. Photo by Mahmoud Illean/AP

Did the Shooters Get Help From Inside? The Taboo That Was Broken on Temple Mount

Netanyahu walks a tightrope after gunmen kill two police officers at holy site

By Amos Harel, Haaretz premium
July 16, 2017

The steps Israel and the Palestinian Authority took immediately after Friday morning’s deadly attack on the Temple Mount show that both sides intend to douse the fire before it spreads.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are well aware of the potential damage from the attack – part of which was recorded and later broadcast – in the most sensitive spot in the region. But the danger of escalation has not yet passed. There are enough elements, first and foremost Hamas, seeking to fan the flames.

Israel’s decision to close the Mount to worshippers, which was seemingly necessary in the first hours after the attack, could charge the atmosphere in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Netanyahu and Abbas spoke by phone on Friday afternoon – a rare occurrence in recent times. According to a report from the Israeli side, Abbas condemned the attack and Netanyahu informed him there was no intention of changing the status quo with regard to worship on the Temple Mount (which Muslims call Haram al-Sharif). Abbas’ condemnation, extraordinary in itself, came because the PA found itself in a difficult position. The three assailants, as was obvious from the video footage released by the police, opened fire from within the Al-Aqsa mosque complex outward, on the Border Police stationed at the entrance. Not only was the taboo broken of gunfire at a site sacred to both religions, but someone on the Palestinian side may have aided the assailants – three Israeli Arabs from Umm al-Fahm – to smuggle the weapons in.

The attack occurred during another visit to Israel by Jason Greenblatt, U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy to the peace process. The PA was in an embarrassing position regarding the Americans; what’s more, the current administration is more attentive than the previous one to Israeli claims of Palestinian incitement.

But only Netanyahu heard Abbas’ condemnation. Palestinian ministers who spoke to the media on Saturday focused on complaints against the Israeli decision to close the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to worshippers. This is a step Israel has not taken in decades, although the Temple Mount itself has been a focus of violence in the past. For example, riots began there following the shooting of Muslim worshipers by police in 1990; the visit by Ariel Sharon (then the opposition leader) to the compound triggered the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000; and tension over visits there by right-wing politicians in October 2015 was an impetus for the lone-wolf intifada.

The police decision to close the Temple Mount, which was backed by Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, stemmed initially from the need to find out whether the assailants had received help from within the Al-Aqsa compound and to search for additional weapons near the mosques.

Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, second from left, at the Old City of Jerusalem following the attack, July 14, 2017.Olivier Fitoussi
But the longer the Temple Mount remains closed, the greater the tensions on the Palestinian side. Over the weekend, Hamas was already calling for a new intifada against Israel, claiming that preventing Muslims from entering the Al-Aqsa complex was tantamount to a religious war. [Israel announced Saturday evening it will gradually reopen the Temple Mount to worshippers on Sunday.]

Israel was also roundly condemned by Jordan. That can probably be considered lip service; there is diplomatic and security cooperation between Amman and Jerusalem. But King Abdullah has to appear sensitive to what is happening in the sacred places to Muslims in Jerusalem. Unrest among the Palestinians in Jordan is a constant threat to the stability of the monarchy; already Saturday, hundreds were protesting in Amman against Israel’s action.

Netanyahu appears to be walking a tightrope here. He took the responsible and necessary step when announcing that the status quo would be preserved, despite calls by right-wing ministers and lawmakers to take advantage of the attack to declare Israeli sovereignty on the Mount (as if that were the last wish of the two policemen who were killed, who were both Druze). On the other hand, closing the Temple Mount and ordering the police to dismantle the mourning tents of the assailants’ families in Umm al-Fahm conveyed a harsh response to the attack.

Likely also at the forefront of Netanyahu’s mind were tensions between Israel’s Muslim and Druze communities, given the background of the attackers and the policemen they killed. On Saturday, a stun grenade was thrown near a mosque in Maghar, the hometown of one of the policemen, a Galilee village where Muslims and Druze live together. The police are prepared for the possibility of revenge acts.
Magnet for attacks

Over the past year, the magnitude of Palestinian terror has declined somewhat compared to earlier incidents in 2016. Violence has declined greatly in the West Bank. That happened mainly due to improvements in the activities of the Israeli security forces in increasing both defence and intelligence work among young Palestinians – but also because the PA has deployed its security forces to try to rein in lone-wolf attackers.

In contrast, the Old City in Jerusalem continues to be a magnet for attackers. There are similarities between the shooting and knife attacks that killed Border Police officer Hadas Malka a month ago and Friday’s attack.

The assailants, who for the most part are not members of a known terror group, are working together and using firearms. When they don’t have a standard firearm, they buy improvised ones, like the homemade Carl Gustav submachine gun (known colloquially as the Carlo) that was used in most of the recent attacks.

Of course, simultaneous assaults with guns increase the damage and the ramifications of the attack. And when it happens around the Temple Mount, the reactions are far more widespread.

According to the Shin Bet security service, the three assailants in Friday’s attack had no record of security offences. Now, thorough action will be needed to find out whether the three left any notice of their intentions beyond general hints on their Facebook pages in the days preceding the incident. The founding of a local terror cell of this kind, the purchase of weapons, perhaps reconnaissance in Jerusalem before the attack – it seems that all of these should have lit a warning light somewhere in the security establishment.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017