Does the Israel Police Department have a handle on the potentially explosive fabric of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in the Holy City?
Given the breakneck pace of events in and around Israel these days, most people might have trouble remembering the Arab riots that took place in several Jerusalem neighborhoods early last month.
The police have not forgotten, however; over the course of one night last week over 50 suspects were arrested. A total of over 600 Arabs have been arrested or detained in the past few weeks.
The riots were particularly violent and widespread by Jerusalem standards. Stricken neighborhoods included Shuafat, Beit Hanina, Ras el-Amud (Maaleh Zeitim), and elsewhere. Policemen were injured, light-rail tracks and cars suffered considerable damage, rocks were thrown at buses and police, and trash bins were burned.
Such results may not seem like much, given the tally of urban riots around the world. Ferguson, Missouri, for instance, has seen a week of looting and violent clashes between protesters and highly militarized police officers, over the shooting death of a black youth by a white police officer.
The Jerusalem riots had an international flavor to them, however. Hamas gave its blessing to the disturbances, which began after Muhammad Abu-Khdir was found murdered in a forest; three Jews have been charged. A Hamas spokesman said Hamas “salutes” the “Jerusalem uprising against the occupation…” At one point, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Jerusalem, urging American citizens to “defer nonessential travel and exercise caution.”
Despite all, police seem to have the situation well under control. Nearly 200 of the suspects have been charged with crimes as of now – a strong indication the authorities will not allow politically-charged considerations to govern the day-to-day running of city affairs. Would that this spill over into housing affairs as well, with homes built wherever Jews want, not just in places that do not ruffle White House feathers.
There is one area, however, where the police do seem to allow political consideration to get in the way. Let us quote Law Prof. Moshe Negbi, a legal expert and Israel Radio commentator known for his leftist, dovish positions:
“I cannot accept under any circumstances the situation in which believing Jews are…deprived of the possibility of actualizing their faith and religious service on the Temple Mount,” Negbi wrote in the most recent Makor Rishon weekend edition.
“This arbitrary ban is an ugly stain on our democracy, and it also undermines the rule of law. It is a blatant violation of the values of freedom of religion and equality…. It is also a trampling of the Law of the Preservation of Holy Sites, legislated by the Knesset right after the Six-Day War, according to which the harming of the right of anyone to visit the Mount is punishable with five years in prison.”
“Yet, behold,” wrote Negbi, “the Israel Police, which is charged with enforcing this law, is precisely the body that erects obstacles in the way of Jewish believers on their way to the Mount.”
Negbi also had criticism of the court system for not demanding explanations for this situation. He similarly chastised the civil-rights organizations “who demand equal recognition for liberal streams and for Women of the Wall, yet stand quietly by while Jews are prevented from praying on the Mount because of a Waqf ‘veto’ and threats of violence.”
Perhaps most notably, Negbi concludes that the guarantee of freedom of religion for all religions, and certainly for Jews, in all sites that are holy to them must be an absolutely necessary condition for a final arrangement in Jerusalem.
His words – surprising for a man of his general political outlook – come on the heels an unexpected appearance in this connection by the chief rabbi of Tzfat at the Knesset Interior Committee this week. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu asked the police to enhance both security and accessibility for the increasing numbers of Jews visiting the Temple Mount.