JERUSALEM (Jan. 9)
The Jerusalem police have appointed a special panel to investigate the clash on the Temple Mount yesterday between members of the Knesset’s Interior Committee and an angry Moslem crowd that allegedly threatened their lives.
The police safely evacuated the MKs. But the latter, mostly right wingers, insist the police should have taken tough measures to curb the mob instead of mounting a rescue operation. Committee chairman Dov Shilansky (Likud-Herut) said today that he would refuse to testify before the police investigators because he thought the police action itself should be investigated.
The Temple Mount, site of the Al-Aksa mosque and Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar), is the third holiest site in the Islamic faith. It is accessible to all visitors but only Moslems are permitted to worship there, a situation that rankles ultra-nationalist Israelis.
While the Interior Committee says it was on legitimate business–to investigate complaints that the Moslem religious authorities allowed illegal construction–it was accompanied by three hardliners who have long demanded an end to the special privileges given Moslems there.
These were Tehiya Party MKs Yuval Neeman and Geula Cohen, who are not members of the Interior Committee, and nationalist activist Gershom Salomon who has frequently led groups of Jews in attempts to hold prayer services on the Temple Mount.
Officials of the Waqf, the Moslem religious council in charge of the holy sites, said the presence of well-known agitators for Jewish religious rights on the Temple Mount was a provocation. For that reason, the Muezzin (the Moslem crier who calls the hours of prayer) summoned the faithful over the public address system to “defend” their shrines.
SAYS MKS ATTACKED WITHOUT PROVOCATION
Shilansky said today that Neeman, Cohen and Salomon had every right to be present, as well as the reporters and television crews invited to accompany the Committee members. He demanded that the Muezzin be arrested and charged with incitement.
While the Knesseters claim they were attacked without provocation, the Moslem Supreme Council claims the MKs deliberately violated the ban on cameras at the holy site. This is one of the matters the police investigators will look into.
The panel is headed by Ami Fleissig, chief of investigations at Jerusalem police headquarters. Cohen has refused to cooperate with him on grounds that a police officer cannot investigate his superior.
The MKs’ quarrel is with Jerusalem Police Chief Haim Albaldes, who ordered his men to evacuate the threatened legislators. There is reportedly a move afoot in the Knesset to demand that the State Attorney General investigate the incident, not the police.
Frayed tempers were hardly eased by another incident today resulting in the arrest of three ultranationalist Jews. The three clashed with Moslem guards on the Temple Mount when they attempted to raise an Israeli flag on the site and sang Hatikva, the national anthem. They claimed they represented Tehiya. But Neeman, leader of the rightwing party, denied prior knowledge of their escapade.
Another prominent hardliner, Minister of Commerce and Industry Ariel Sharon of Likud, visited the Temple Mount this morning, after first coordinating with the police. There was no incident. Sharon stated that the site should be freely accessible to both Moslems and Jews for prayers.
The question of Jewish prayer is complicated. The government has banned it for political reasons ever since the Temple Mount was seized by Israel in the 1967 war.
Orthodox Jews are forbidden for halachic reasons from praying at the site because of the presence of Islamic shrines. For that reason, Orthodox members of the Interior Committee did not accompany Shilansky to the Temple Mount yesterday, nor did most Labor MKs for political reasons.
Shilansky vowed to return late yesterday but was forced to abandon his plans under pressure from colleagues after Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel firmly ruled it out.
Meanwhile, police and border police are maintaining a high-profile presence at the site to forestall further incidents. They will remain there through Friday morning, when the Moslem faithful attend services at the two mosques.