Mounting criticism of the police’s handling of Monday’s violent riots on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City seems likely to result in a formal government investigation.
Police Minister Ronni Milo instructed national Police Chief Ya’acov Terner to suspend his department’s internal inquiry into the police action, which left at least 19 Palestinians dead, wounded more than 100 and put Israel on the defensive worldwide.
Milo’s office said the Likud minister has asked Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to name an independent panel to conduct a full-fledged investigation.
The move came as a surprise, inasmuch as Milo had initially endorsed the way the police handled the worst outburst of violence in the Old City since it was captured by Israel in 1967.
Unidentified “defense circles” widely quoted in the media Tuesday expressed the opinion that the police fell down badly in the execution of their overriding responsibility: keeping the peace in Jerusalem.
Several newspapers faulted the police for failing to prevent the riot and for their performance after it broke out.
Politicians on the left and center were demanding an independent judicial inquiry from the outset.
But voices on the right, like Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, exhorted the government and public to give their unstinting support to the police who, he maintained, prevented a mass Arab attack on Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall.
In fact, several Jews were injured by a hail of stones and bottles from the Temple Mount. Many panicked in a mad scramble for shelter.
The issue will get a further airing when the Knesset Interior Committee convenes next Monday for a full-scale hearing on the episode.
RIOTS MAY HAVE BEEN INSPIRED BY IRAQ
Critics noted that although tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims were expected at the Wall on Monday, no more than 50 police officers were deployed in the area.
That relatively small contingent was unable to prevent the stoning, failed to prevent the burning of a small police outpost on the Temple Mount and could not marshall an orderly flight of Jews from the danger area.
Many more police officers were on duty at the time but were stationed in western Jerusalem to protect a Sukkot parade down Jaffa Road.
The border police who eventually charged into the rioters through the Mograbi Gate opened fire too hastily and indiscriminately with live ammunition and rubber bullets, the critics said.
Defense circles said that if the police had been deployed in force, the use of live ammunition would have been unnecessary.
Israeli security sources said, meanwhile, they have a preponderance of evidence that the riots, in which at least 3,000 Palestinians participated, were planned and organized in advance.
They say stockpiles of bottle and rocks and other missiles were brought to the Temple Mount during the preceding days for the express purpose of attacking Jews, who, it was known, would be praying at the Western Wall.
According to the Israeli authorities, the Palestinian leadership wanted the outburst as a means of reigniting the flagging intifada.
Davar reported Tuesday that intelligence sources believe the riots were organized by the Palestine Liberation Organization, inspired by Iraq and perhaps even directed from Baghdad.
REINFORCEMENTS MOVED IN
The Palestinian version is quite different. They said the rocks and bottles were collected to ward off an expected attempt by a small group of messianic Jews called the Temple Mount Faithful to lay the cornerstone of the “Third Temple” on the site of Al Aksa mosque, one of the holiest shrines of the Islamic faith.
The Temple Mount Faithful have indeed intruded on the Moslem holy sites in the past, especially during Jewish holidays, and have always been turned back by the police. They were on their way Monday. But the riots began before they appeared.
There was reason to expect trouble Monday on the Temple Mount, since Arab religious leaders had been exhorting Moslems for several days to prepare to repel the Temple Mount Faithful.
The police have regularly foiled the group in the past, but they may not have sufficiently reassured the Arabs that such was the official policy.
Ha’aretz reported Tuesday that 2,000 police reinforcements sent to Jerusalem overnight have taken up strategic positions to quell any new rioting that may erupt. The Temple Mount was blocked off and worshipers were denied entry.
Several dozen who tried to break into the mosque compound were dispersed with tear gas. The mufti of Jerusalem, the highest Moslem religious authority, was among them. He was treated at a hospital for gas inhalation.
Sheik Mohammad al-Jamal, the deputy mufti of Jerusalem, was jailed overnight on suspicion of incitement to riot. Palestinian nationalist leader Faisal Husseini was also being held in custody in connection with the riot.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.