As Israel struggles to cope with a new outbreak of the coronavirus, some experts are pointing at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as a super-spreader that is particularly difficult to deal with.
Lockdowns Everywhere But Aqsa Mosque
The Temple Mount was closed for several weeks in March as part of a nationwide lockdown. In September, Israel entered its second nationwide lockdown and the Waqf initially said it would close the compound. The Old City of Jerusalem was declared a COVID Red Zone. But as the nation shut down, the Waqf kept the Temple Mount open to Muslim prayer in direct violation of the Health Ministry regulations. The Israeli authorities refrained from imposing any restrictions at the site.
The Waqf has called on Muslims to come to the site en masse in order to prevent Jewish visitors from ascending to the site, particularly on Fridays. Two Fridays ago, an estimated 18,000 Arabs gathered on the Temple Mount in blatant violation of health restrictions. There was not even a pretense of social distancing and many of the people were not wearing masks. In a closed-door meeting discussing the event, Prof. Nachman Ash, who heads the country’s Magen Israel anti-pandemic program, responded simply by saying, “There is no solution.”
The “Corona Mount”
Virus rates are soaring among Arabs and, as a result, among the Jews who live and work with them,. Nadav Shragai, a noted Israeli journalist, published an article in Israel Hayom, dubbed the holiest site in Judaism, “the Corona Mount”, calling non-compliance to health regulations on the Temple Mount “the worst kept secret in the country.”
“Some 18,000 people crowd into the compound every Friday, many without masks,” Shragai wrote. “They infect each other at a dizzying rate. Then they go back to their neighborhoods in east Jerusalem or Arab communities in Israel, where they infect many more. In east Jerusalem, 14% of COVID tests are coming back positive. In Issawiya, it’s 17.5%. In Kafr Aqab, 23%, and in the Shuefat refugee camp – 50% Of the 23 neighborhoods in Jerusalem coded red under the Health Ministry’s stoplight plan, 12 – which are home to 320,000 people – are Arab.”
“The Temple Mount has become a hotbed of COVID infection at a level that is hard to grasp. When we add the crowded housing conditions in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, where people continue to gather and law enforcement is virtually nonexistent, we get a chain of infection that kills Jews and Arabs alike.”
Shragai claimed that the Israeli government refuses to enforce health restrictions due to the “well-known volatility” of the Arabs at the site. This turn-the-other-cheek attitude extends to other aspects of the Temple Mount. Shragai accuses the Israeli government of ignoring Arab destruction of antiquities under the guise of construction. Shragai also cites the incitement and Arab violence that radiates out from the Temple Mount.
His solutions are simple and straightforward, stopping short of outright closure: fines and restricting access to problematic individuals. But his main advice is directed at the Israeli people and our government, calling on us to “stop sitting on our hands.”