News Analysis: Temple Mount Riots Were Planned, and Police Should Have Prepared

Israeli authorities, piecing together Monday’s bloody events on the Temple Mount, appear to have reached two firm conclusions.

The first is that the Palestinian rioting in which Jews worshiping at the Western Wall were pelted with stones and bottles was neither spontaneous nor provoked, but a deliberate, premeditated action.

Second, the police whose gunfire killed at least 19 Arabs — some reports put the death toll now at 21 — and wounded more then 130 others, may have avoided or reduced the casualties had they acted with greater restraint and been deployed in greater numbers.

While trying to get as objective a view possible of the episode that has put Israel on the defensive worldwide, the authorities have made clear that attacks on Jews at prayer will not be tolerated.

Judge David Frankel said as much Wednesday when he extended the custody of 80 Arabs who have been detained since Monday on suspicion of inciting the riot.

“Whoever plans a massive attack on the Western Wall on a holiday cannot expect that the matter will pass without reaction,” he said.

Two prominent Palestinian Arabs under detention are nationalist leader Faisal Husseini and Sheik Mohammad al-Jamal, deputy head of the Supreme Moslem Council, the Islamic religious authority in Jerusalem.

Husseini was arrested Monday. The Jerusalem Magistrates Court extended his custody Wednesday for 10 days, and there is a strong likelihood he will face punitive measures.

INVESTIGATORY PANEL APPOINTED

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, meanwhile, has appointed a special investigatory committee to study the police’s handling of the Temple Mount riots, described as the worst since Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967.

According to Israel Radio, the panel will be headed by reserve Gen. Tzvi Zamir, a former director of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency.

Sources here stressed that the panel will have a limited mandate. Unlike a state commission of inquiry, which has the legal powers of a court, the investigatory committee will not be empowered to summon witnesses.

Its sole function would be to make recommendations. Whether they are implemented will depend on the willingness of the political echelons.

But the probe will have the advantage of conducting its investigation outside the police framework and its conclusions may therefore enjoy somewhat greater credibility.

While many of the details of Monday’s incident remain murky, several facts have already been clearly established:

First, the Arab demonstration on the Temple Mount was planned in advance, following reports that a messianic Jewish group, the Temple Mount Faithful, was planning to intrude on the Islamic shrines Monday to lay the cornerstone of the “Third Temple.”

Preparations for the demonstration continued, although the Moslem authorities were well aware that the High Court of Justice specifically banned the messianic group from entering the Temple Mount, and the police indicated they would enforce the ban.

Second, the police had advance knowledge of the demonstration, because the Moslem authorities published public calls to gather on the Temple Mount. Therefore, the assembly itself should have come as no surprise.

It remains to be determined whether there was a failure of intelligence in anticipating violence or an operational failure resulting in high casualties after the attack occurred.

NO POLICE PROVOCATION

Third, although the demonstration was planned in advance, the rock-throwing apparently was not.

Israeli sources claimed initially that Arabs were systematically stockpiling rocks and other projectiles on the Temple Mount in preparation for the attack. It turns out that the stones, bricks and iron bars stored at the site were to be used for construction work, not as weapons.

The rock-throwing began when rumors spread that the Temple Mount Faithful were on their way to the site. That band was in fact heading for the Shiloah Fountain, over a mile to the south.

Fourth, there was no police provocation to trigger the rioting, despite Arab claims to the contrary. A police officer has testified that the rock-throwing began shortly after 10:30 a.m. local time. The first shots were fired a half-hour later.

Meanwhile, the Old City remained quiet but tense Wednesday, as a general strike called by the Israeli Arab leadership continued for a second day.

Unrest was reported in Nazareth, where masked Arab youths stoned vehicles. Police arrested three suspects, bringing to 30 the number detained since Monday in Israel’s largest Arab city, excluding the administered territories.

About 10,000 Israeli Arabs marched Wednesday in nearby Sakhnin village to mourn the Temple Mount dead. Violence also was reported in the Israeli Arab villages of Taiba and Kalansuwa, near Kfar Sava.

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