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Remembering Israel’s move to install metal detectors at Al-Aqsa

July 16, 2018 at 8:30 am

Palestinians gather in front of the new security metal detectors, outside one of the main entrances to the Al-Aqsa mosque, refusing to enter because of the detectors installed by Israel as the holy site re-opened for the first time on Sunday since a two-day closure following a deadly shootout in Jerusalem on 18 July, 2017 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

What: Israel installed metal detectors at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

Where: Jerusalem

When: 16-25 July 2017

What happened?

On 16 July 2017 Israel installed metal detectors at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Two days earlier, three Palestinians and two Israeli occupation security personnel were killed in the mosque’s courtyards.

Following the incident, Israel closed the mosque and stopped Friday prayers from being held there for the first time in 17 years. Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, condemned the move as depriving the Palestinian people of their right to worship and demanded a return to the status quo.

The Al-Aqsa compound remained closed for two days and metal detectors appeared on Sunday 16 July. In protest, hundreds of Jerusalemites prayed in the streets after refusing to pass through the metal detectors. Palestinians said  this was a unilateral step to change the status quo at the holy site. The Waqf, the Islamic endowment that controls the Al-Aqsa compound and mosque, and Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti, Mohammed Ahmed Hussein, called for the city’s mosques to close their doors and encourage worshippers to pray in the street.

Banned worshippers pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque gates in defiance of Israel policy

Israel’s response was heavy handed, with three Palestinians killed and more than 450 injured in the days following the installation of the metal detectors. Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem accused the authorities of using “excessive and unjustified force”.

What happened next?

Protests spread to other countries, with the Arab League warning that Israel was “playing with fire and risking a major crisis with the Arab and Islamic world.” The UN’s Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, warned that a solution to the crisis must be found otherwise “the dangers on the ground will escalate if we go through another cycle of Friday prayer without a resolution.”

Largescale protests were seen in Jordan, with thousands demonstrating in Amman and other cities across the country. Tensions escalated further when Mohammad Jawawdah, a 16-year-old Jordanian, was killed by an Israeli embassy security guard on 23 July. Jawawdah had been working in a furniture firm and had got into a confrontation with the Israeli security guard after entering the embassy compound to deliver an order. The Israeli guard shot the youth dead.

Initially Jordan demanded that Israel hand the guard over to police for questioning, and barred him from leaving the country. However, the following day, on 24 July, the Israeli security guard returned to Israel under diplomatic protection, sparking further anger among Jordanians. King Abdullah, as the custodian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, telephoned the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss a resolution to the crises and the tense relations between the two countries. Some speculated that the King Abdullah and Netanyahu had reached a deal in which Israel agreed to remove the metal detectors outside the Al-Aqsa compound if Amman would let the security guard leave the country.

On 25 July, Israel announced its decision to remove the metal detectors, replacing them with surveillance cameras. As the metal detectors were being removed, hundreds of Palestinians protested against the security cameras that remained in place. The Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Najeh Bakirat, said that the continued presence of security cameras meant the move did not fulfil the demands of worshippers.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.