Palestinians aren’t against security measures at the Al-Aqsa compound — they are against changing the delicate status quo at one of Islam’s holiest sites.
By Noa Levy
Why are the Palestinians up in arms over metal detectors at the entrance to Al-Aqsa? Let me assume for a moment that most of you, like me, don’t get what the big deal is. After all, there are metal detectors at the entrance to every mall, train station, and even the Western Wall and the holy sites in Mecca. Islam forbids bringing in weapons to the holy Al-Aqsa compound, and the metal detectors are there for the protection of the worshippers. So what gives?
The issue is the framing. Framing this story as one in which Palestinians have a problem with metal detectors does an injustice to the demands of the worshipers at Al-Aqsa. Since the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 Israel has respected the status quo vis-a-vis the city’s Muslim holy sites: the Aqsa compound is managed by the Islamic Waqf, the body that controls the compound according an agreement between Israel and Jordan. Israel knows that this arrangement is what prevents conflagration with the Muslim world. When the status quo was first violated by Ariel Sharon in 2000, it lead to the Second Intifada.
There are security checks, managed by the Waqf, at the entrance to Al-Aqsa that no one has ever opposed. If the Israelis want metal detectors, why not let the Waqf be put in charge of them?
But this was never the issue at hand. Worshippers are upset about an Israeli checkpoint being manned by Israeli Border Police officers — a checkpoint similar to the ones in the West Bank, which Palestinians associate with long lines, humiliation, and abuse by soldiers and police officers. This is a checkpoint that was erected at the entrance to one of the holiest sites in Islam, where Palestinian worshipers enter five times a day to pray. The compound also includes mosques, a school, homes, and several other buildings.
The protests, then, are against the Israeli checkpoint at the entrance to Al-Aqsa, as a violation of the states quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, as well as increased Israel control over those who enter it. It’s not only about the metal detectors themselves. No one had a problem when the security checks were handled by the Waqf.
It is the government, not the police, that is responsible for this decision — which goes against recommendations by both the Shin Bet and the IDF. This is a political decision, whose goal is to provoke, rather than to protect.
Noa Levy is the secretary of Hadash Tel Aviv. This this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.