Ramadan began eight days ago and the security situation is already heating up the Temple Mount, threatening to be as violent as it has been in the past.
Muslim prayers at the site on Fridays during the month-long Ramadan period are usually well attended and this year is no exception. An estimated 135-180,000 Muslims ascended to the Temple Mount for the first Friday of this Ramadan, 50 percent more than attended the same event last year. The Israeli police deployed hundreds of security personnel in preparation for the day, protecting the Muslims’ right to worship as well as the peace and order of the city.
Police units in Jerusalem secured the first Friday events for Ramadan in the old city. @IL_police forces secured over 135,000 people that took part in the prayers on the Temple Mount pic.twitter.com/560oX2faoR
— Israel Police (@israelpolice) May 10, 2019
The Israeli government eased travel restrictions, allowing some 75,000 people from the Judea and Samaria to pass through security checkpoints into Jerusalem. Men over the age of 40 and children under 12 will be allowed to enter the city on Fridays during the month of Ramadan, while there are no restrictions on women, the Israeli army announced.
Ramadan is supposed to be a period of intense devotion during which Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during the day but in the past, the Ramadan period has also been a period of intensified violence, most particularly on the Temple Mount. This was especially true last year as Palestinians rioted on the Temple Mount in order to show unity with Gazans rioting on the southern border.
In 2017, a wave of deadly terrorist attacks took place in the Old City during the last part of Ramadan. An Israeli policewoman was stabbed to death and four other police officers were injured in a shooting attack. This mirrored terrorist attacks in London, Paris, Asia, Iran, and Australia. Coptic Christians were targeted by deadly attacks in Egypt.
The Temple Mount was closed to Jews for several days in 2016 in the wake of Palestinian riots over non-Muslim visitation during the Ramadan period.
This Ramadan cycle may follow suit. Just after midnight on Saturday night, clashes between Israeli police and Muslims broke out. Palestinian media reported that a large number of Israeli police officers entered the complex and started removing Palestinians from inside, resorting to tear gas to control the crowds. Riots again broke out on the Temple Mount on Sunday night after the prayers ending the Ramadan fast.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 11, 2019
Assaf Fried, the spokesman for the Temple Organizations, explained that the Ramadan disturbances were to be expected.
“For the time being, the police are still ensuring that Jews can ascend to the Temple Mount in the morning. In the past, the response to Muslim violence was to close the site entirely to non-Muslims. This is by far the simplest solution. The police are currently going to great efforts to protect the rights of Muslims and Jews.”
Fried explained that the violence is directed at changing the status quo. He compared this to riots which broke out on the Temple Mount in March, focusing on area adjacent to Sha’ar HaRachamim (Gate of Mercy, also known as the Golden Gate) in the Temple Mount compound. The site was locked 16 years ago by court order after it was used as a meeting place for a Hamas-affiliated organization. The Palestinians usurped the area, declaring it a prayer area for exclusively Muslim use. The actions were in contravention of agreements signed between Israel and the Waqf (Muslim authority) under the auspices of Jordan. The area is still being used as a Muslim prayer area.
“The police are functioning very well and it is entirely to their merit that a major conflict has not broken out at the site,” Fried said. “The Muslims remain after prayers and it is clear from their actions that they are gathering forces to riot. Everything is seen on the security cameras and the police understand the situation precisely. They step in and remove the Muslims before the situation explodes. The Palestinians have done this many times already on Ramadan and on other Muslim holidays.”
“For now, it is quiet on the Temple Mount thanks to the amazing work of the Israeli police, not because of the Muslims,” Fried said. “But what will be tomorrow, no one can tell.”