JERUSALEM (Jan. 14)
A return visit to the Temple Mount by rightwing Knesset members today touched off a stone-throwing melee which ended with the arrest of 17 suspects after police sued tear gas to disperse an angry Arab crowd. The visit also triggered acrimonious exchanges in the Knesset where rightists and leftwing MKs accused each other of the incitement.
The Temple Mount in East Jerusalem is the site of the Al Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar), two of the holiest shrines of the Moslem faith. A visit there last Wednesday by members of the Knesset Interior Committee headed by its chairman, Dov Shilansky of Likud, provoked a confrontation with the Moslem religious authorities in charge of the site where Moslems alone are permitted to worship.
The MKs, threatened by a crowd, were safely evacuated by police but Shilansky vowed to return to complete what he said was his committee’s legitimate business — to investigate allegations that the Moslem religious authorities were allowing illegal construction at the site.
MKS WARNED THAT ‘BLOOD WILL BE SPILLED’
The return visit passed almost without incident until a Moslem leader barred the MKs from entering a building known as Solomon’s Stables, the scene of last week’s altercation. He warned them “blood would be spilled” if they tried to enter. The Knesseters caucused on the spot and decided, prudently, to leave. The Moslem official was incensed because one of the visitors, Tehiya MK Eliezer Waldman, demonstratively chanted prayers on the site reserved only for Moslem prayer.
Meanwhile, Arab youngsters outside the area threw rocks at police and chanted Palestinian nationalist slogans. The police fired tear gas and temporarily sealed off the entrances to the Temple Mount.
The Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem convened later today to discuss the situation. Premier Shimon Peres stressed that Israel’s sovereignty over all parts of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, was an undisputable fact.
At the same time he insisted that the regulations imposed by all Israeli governments, past and present must be observed. Those regulations, aimed at preserving order, allow the Moslem religious authority, the Waqf, autonomy over the Islamic shrines. Jews are permitted to pray only at the Western Wall, a situation that rankles ultra-nationalist Israelis.
PERES DECRIES INCITEMENT OF ARABS
Peres decried the incitement of the Arab public which, he said, “was intended to destroy the atmosphere of coexistence between the communities.” Tehiya MK Geula Cohen charged in the Knesset today that the latest incidents made clear that “On the Temple Mount there is a Palestinian state.” Cohen, though not a member of the Interior Committee, had been invited by Shilansky to accompany it to the Temple Mount last week and today.
Yossi Sarid of the leftist Civil Rights Movement (CRM) accused Shilansky of announcing “in a planned, provocative manner ” that Jews would pray on the Temple Mount. Shilansky denied he made any such announcement. He said Waldman’s praying was a spontaneous act. Other rightwingers accused the CRM of inciting the mob by shouting “provocation.”
Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel, a Laborite, criticized both the rightwing extremists in the Knesset and the Moslem militants. He said there was no question of Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount and expressed hope that a dialogue can be re-established between Israelis and Moslems.
Hillel, who had taken a dim view of Shilansky’s visits to the site but was unable to prevent them, toured the Temple Mount himself yesterday accompanied by Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. They met with members of the Moslem Supreme Council, headed by Mufti Sa’ad A-Din-Alami.
Their visit was not covered by the media because the presence of cameras near the Islamic shrines was partly responsible for last week’s incident.
Hillel and Kollek chastised the Moslem clerics for incitement last Wednesday. The Muezzin, who announces the hours of prayer to the faithful, used the public address system to summon a mob to defend the holy places against an “invasion by Jews.” Kollek said the Mufti agreed that was wrong.
He and Hillel spoke to reporters afterwards. The Knesset speaker dismissed complaints by Jewish activists that the Moslem authorities were allowing illegal construction. He said all he saw was reconstruction of certain buildings badly in need of it, and this he welcomed.