Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tensions are high and rising in Jerusalem, with a confrontation of some sort expected Friday.  There’s almost certainly going to be violence, perhaps more widespread than in the recent past.

The students are in the Galilee, have been there for the past week, and won’t be returning to the Center until early evening next Thursday.   The Galilee is, as usual, peaceful and pleasant, if hot and humid.  So the students, ex pat faculty and service couples are out of harm’s way.  And, in any event, the Old City and East Jerusalem have been off limits to Center personnel since last Friday and will remain so through at least next weekend. 

The expected confrontation has its genesis in the attack that killed two policemen last Friday.  The attackers had stored their weapons on the Temple Mount before the attack and retreated to the Temple Mount following the attack, where they were killed in a battle with police.  Both of which are unprecedented.  In response the Israeli government cut off access to the Temple Mount through last Sunday (including for last Friday’s noon prayers) – something that’s occurred only two other times since 1967.  When the closure was lifted, the Israeli government announced that there would be metal detectors at all entrances going forward.  This has brought out the radicals on both sides – the far right in Netanyahu’s cabinet insisting that they not be removed because doing so “would show weakness”; the radicals on the Palestinian side insisting metal detectors at the entrances are a violation of their sovereignty over the Temple Mount and insisting that they will come to the Al Aqsa Mosque to pray, but that they will not go through the metal detectors to do so.   So the call has gone out to Muslim men to march to the entrances tomorrow and if the metal detectors in still in place, to hold prayers outside of the entrances.  The Muslim entity (“waqf”) that that controls Muslim sites in the city, including the Temple Mount, has closed all other mosques in Jerusalem and East Jerusalem tomorrow except Al Aqsa, essentially forcing everyone to head for the entrances to the Temple Mount, although the waqf has also asked Muslim men to march to the border crossings between Jerusalem and the West Bank (south near Bethlehem; north on the road toward Ramallah) and gather for prayer on the Israeli side.  So there will be tens of thousands of Muslim men pushing toward the Temple Mount entrances and border crossings starting early Friday morning.  The Jordanians, and recently the Saudis, have weighed in on the sovereignty issue, which means that the confrontation will be followed carefully and supported throughout the Arab world.  There may also be sympathetic confrontations and violence on the West Bank, so the expectations at this point are that there will be widespread unrest on Friday and perhaps beyond.

The Jerusalem Center is away from any of the places where confrontations and, possibly, violence are likely to develop.   Personnel at the Center are safe and secure and will remain so, as will the students and faculty upon their return next Thursday evening.


Friday, July 14, 2017

An attack today in the Old City of Jerusalem left two policemen dead.  While more brazen and deadly, this follows the pattern of the attacks over the past several years:  directed at Israelis in uniform (or sometimes, in religious dress although this morning's attack was only on the police).  Attacks in the past have been mostly with knives and cars.  This one differed from the pattern some in that guns were used. 

The Old City is always off limits on Fridays through 3 pm because tensions are always higher and the potential for violence greater.  Therefore, there were no students or other Center personnel in the Old City today.  For now, the restrictions on travel to the Old City have been extended through at least Sunday.