The problem with metal detectors in Jerusalem

Image: Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem. Wiki Commons

July 25, 2017

The Israeli government has decided to take down the metal detectors at the entrances to the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount, announcing at the same time that a different security system will be installed in the near future.

In this way, the government hoped, probably in vain, to put an end to a quickly escalating crisis which had started on Friday the 14th, after three Palestinian Israelis attacked police officers with improvised machine guns. Two police officers were killed, as were the attackers.

After the attack, the Israeli government unilaterally decided to tighten security around the compound by installing metal detectors. In protest, Palestinians organized collective public prayers in the streets of Jerusalem. At the same time, violence erupted in the city and the West Bank, with fatalities amongst the Palestinian protesters. An Israeli settler family was murdered in retaliation. At the same, in Amman, Jordanians of Palestinian descent have been agitated by the events in Jerusalem. After a Palestinian Jordanian stabbed an official at the Israeli embassy, an Israeli security officer shot and killed the attacker and a bystander, resulting in a diplomatic mess.

From an Israeli perspective, it might have come as a surprise that the installation of metal detectors could so quickly lead to such disturbances. Most Israeli’s consider detectors a legitimate security measure widely used in shopping centers, government buildings and even in access gates to religious sites, including the Western or Wailing Wall.

Changing the status quo
However, for Palestinians the metal detectors have a greater significance. Fifty years ago, Israel occupied, the Old City of Jerusalem and the surrounding neighborhoods. It was agreed that a Jordanian Waqf, a religious foundation, would be responsible for the management of the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount. As a result, this area offers Palestinians a symbolic escape from the Israeli occupation. The recent unilateral Israeli change in the security regime convinced Palestinians that the existing power balance around the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount was once again shifting. The status quo was already changing in recent months, since the Jerusalem police have been admitting increasing numbers of representatives of the Temple Movement to Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount. The Temple Movement consists of Jewish activists who advocate the construction of a new, third Temple on the site.

Security risk, or people with rights?
The detectors have another symbolic layer. They are part of the comprehensive security system that Israel has established in the occupied territories to control the Palestinian population. A system of checkpoints, ongoing military presence, and a strong presence of intelligence services. All security measures convey the same message, namely that Palestinians are first and foremost a security risk. The fundamental question is whether sustainable and just security can be achieved through these type of measures.

The installation of detectors was intended to provide security, but it resulted in the exact opposite: the situation in and around Jerusalem quickly deteriorated and the protests resulted in people getting killed and wounded. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to prove himself a strong leader who is even stricter than his nationalist coalition partners. For their part, the leaders at the Palestinian side used the recent events as a way to strengthen their position. For now, it seems that Israel has backtracked on the detectors. However, tensions might continue to rise, since the protests against the detectors refer to a much bigger cause: the resistance to Israel’s occupation and to the strict regime of control that Palestinians experience in their daily lives.

End the occupation
The only just and sustainable solution to the conflict is ending the occupation. Instead of a security risk, the Palestinians must be seen as people whose rights should also be respected. Sustainable security is the result of respect for each other’s integrity. Unfortunately, the road towards a just solution is still very long.

Want to know more? Read the analysis of Crisis Group ‘Palestinian Activism Reawakens in Jerusalem after Holy Esplanade Attack’ and a primer on the events in Jerusalem by Ir Amim.

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