Palestinians rioted across parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank today following Israel’s decision to install metal detectors at entrances to the Temple Mount, home to both al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock—often described as the third-holiest site in Islam. As Haaretz reports:
Three Palestinians have been killed and dozens if not hundreds were hurt in clashes with Israeli police across the West Bank and East Jerusalem as tensions that began in the Temple Mount spread. Police presence in Jerusalem was virtually unprecedented on Friday as prayers and protests on the Temple Mount turned violent.
The security cabinet decided early on Friday that controversial metal detectors installed outside the holy site in the wake of a shooting attack that left two policemen dead last week will remain in place. According to Palestinians, tens of thousands of worshippers came to pray outside the Temple Mount gates, refusing to pass through the metal detectors.
[….] Senior Waqf officials [responsible for the administration of the Temple Mount] said that the intention was to hold Friday prayers as usual without confrontation and that if any escalation and violence took place, Israel would be responsible because of the restrictions imposed on the worshippers.
Mufti Muhammad Hussein told Haaretz: “We will continue to struggle against the metal detectors until the Israeli government takes them out of there. I call on the Muslim world to join the struggle to preserve [the Temple Mount] as an exclusive place for Islam.”
Palestinian political strategy in opposing Israel often relies on provoking a “disproportionate” security response to garner international sympathy. Palestinians armed with rocks facing down Israeli tanks is supposed to cast the Palestinians as David against an Israeli Goliath. If that’s the goal of the Palestinian leadership in fomenting these riots, it seems likely to backfire—badly.
The timeline here is as important as the substance (or lack thereof) of the grievance. Last week, Palestinian terrorists smuggled guns into their own holy site. They then used those guns to murder two Israeli police officers guarding one of the entrances to al-Aqsa. Though murder is murder regardless of the identity of the victims, it’s worth noting that the murdered officers were Arab-Israeli Druze. The attackers then retreated to the al-Aqsa plaza to engage in an open gun battle with Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount. In response, the Israelis temporarily closed the Temple Mount and re-opened it with metal detectors at each of the compound’s entrances. It’s that provocation, the installation of metal detectors, not the heinous use of a holy site as a launchpad for murder and terrorism, that has the Palestinians enraged.
It would be difficult to imagine a less sympathetic grievance to attract Western support to the Palestinian cause. In fact, the Palestinian response will appear contemptible to anyone who bothers to read even the basic facts of the matter. Israelis can’t go into shopping malls and bus stations, let alone visit the Western Wall, without passing through a metal detector. But Israeli-style security measures are a fact of life in the West as well, with metal detectors now a ubiquitous presence at sports events and, yes, outside religious sites like Notre Dame in Paris.
There is also of course a deep historical irony. With the possible exception of al-Qaeda, Palestinian terrorism—which pioneered the use of plane hijackings, airport attacks, and suicide bombings—has perhaps done more to force the introduction of metal detectors into our daily lives than just about any other cause.
The Israelis might try to look for a way out of this confrontation. Violence within the al-Aqsa complex is rare. The Israelis might well decide that the metal detectors have caused more trouble than this is worth, despite the fact that the Palestinian response is being driven by unsubstantiated paranoia about Jewish conspiracies to overturn the Temple Mount status quo. But if this kind of issue is going to be the chief grievance of the Palestinians, they shouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the world shrugs.