Israel released on Saturday three Turkish citizens who were arrested Friday during an incident that took place following Muslim prayers in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Police described the three men as tourists. Spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said they tried to reach the Al Aqsa Mosque, where “they planned on taking part in a demonstration,” Reuters reported. Rosenfeld said the three men “carried out an assault on police officers there,” but did not provide further details other than to say there were no injuries.
Two of the men were accused of “battering Israeli police and resisting arrest,” according to a report by the Turkish Daily Sabah. Both hold dual Turkish and Belgian citizenship. The third one faced charges of “disturbing the public order and attending an illegal demonstration.”
The Turkish news outlet quoted eyewitnesses as saying Israeli police blocked the Turkish group – which included children – from entering the Temple Mount because some of the group wore tee shirts with Turkish flags and fezzes (traditional Ottoman hats).
According to Daily Sabah, the tourists were told by police they could not enter until they removed the shirts with the flags, “causing brawl, after which two people were detained, the eyewitnesses said.”
It is not unusual for tourists to be told to remove an article of attire that security forces believe might inspire a disturbance.
JewishPress.com was told by an eyewitness to the event that several months ago, an American rabbi from Memphis, Tennessee was asked to remove his hat and yarmulka and was refused entry to the Temple Mount until he complied.
Late last month, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Muslims in his country and around the world to “defend the Palestinian cause and protect Jerusalem” while speaking at a parliamentary symposium in Istanbul. He added that “safeguarding the Al Aqsa Mosque shouldn’t be left to children armed with nothing but stones.”
His words followed the July 2017 terrorist murder of two Israeli police officers in the Temple Mount compound. The attack came in a shootout with three Israeli Arab cousins from the city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel who opened fire at the officers near the Lions’ Gate entrance to the compound. The attack was followed by closure of the site so as to facilitate investigation by police; a necessity that nevertheless sparked days of massive, violent riots by Muslims and hysterical incitement by Arab and other Islamic leaders in the region, prominent among them President Erdogan.
But the deadly incident was preceded by months and months of violence spawned in the weekly sermons held at the Al Aqsa mosque, located within the compound of the Temple Mount, already a focal point for radical Islamist violence for since the start of the so-called “knife intifada” in October 2015.
Together with the Western Wall, the Temple Mount is the holiest site in the Jewish faith; but today it is also considered the third holiest site in Islam as well, though there are some Arab leaders in the region who dispute that status. Many extremists fear the belief held by Jews that someday the Third Holy Temple will rise from the ruins of the First and Second Holy Temples of Jerusalem, there in the compound of the Temple Mount.