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Security cameras at Temple Mount too controversial?

Ruth Eglash

By Ruth Eglash

Published Oct. 30, 2015

Security cameras at Temple Mount too controversial?


In a special operations room, Israeli police officer Nofar Biton monitors security cameras placed in Jerusalem's Old City.
Photo by: Ruth Eglash --- The Washington Post

JERUSALEM --- It seemed like a good idea on Saturday: installing surveillance cameras at Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site in an attempt to end more than a month of deadly conflict between Jews and Muslims.

Secretary of State John Kerry said, "It could be a game-changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of the holy sites."

But like with many things related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the devil is in the details, and by Thursday it seemed unlikely that any cameras would go up at the contested esplanade, which Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary and Jews as the Temple Mount.

"If I could wager $1,000 that the cameras will never happen, then I would," said Amiel Meitav, a former Old City coordinator for the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency.

Kerry said the suggestion for 24-hour video coverage came from Jordan's King Abdullah II, who is said to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. But Meitav said he was doubtful most Muslims would agree to such a step, which could be perceived as an infringement on religious privacy.

There are about 320 security cameras around the Old City, with at least two lenses trained on the leafy plaza, home to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock. The 24-hour feed is closely monitored in a special operations room at Israeli police headquarters in the Old City.

Meitav said the cameras were introduced in 2000 during the second Palestinian intifada and help to maintain law and order in the area's narrow alleyways.

"You can't do anything in the Old City because of the cameras --- everyone who lives there knows they are being watched. All the attacks in the city have been carried out by people from outside," he said.

But putting cameras inside the holy site is a different matter.

Israeli Arab parliamentarian Basel Ghattas, who entered the plaza on Wednesday despite orders from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for lawmakers to stay away, said religious leaders who run the site are against the plan.

"They see the place as belonging to them, and if cameras go up they don't want to share the feed with Israel," said Ghattas, referring to the Waqf Islamic trust, the religious authority that manages the site on behalf of Jordan, the official custodian of the site.

"The issue is very controversial, it is thought to be another form of control by Israel," he said.

On Monday, Waqf officials attempted to place their own cameras near the Mughrabi Gate, the only entrance through which Jews and non-Muslims can enter. Their goal was to monitor Orthodox Jewish visitors, some of whom would like to see a Jewish temple at the site, and show they are the antagonists.

Israeli police prevented the cameras from going up. Netanyahu said final arrangements for the manner and location of the cameras "were supposed to be coordinated between Israel, Jordan and the United States at the professional level."

While Israel provides security at the site, Palestinian Muslims make up the bulk of those who pray there. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a local radio station that the plan was "a trap," and that Israel would use the footage to arrest Palestinian worshipers.

But the Jordanians quickly addressed Palestinian fears, saying the cameras were meant to protect the site.

The Jerusalem Post quoted Adnan Abu Odeh, a veteran Jordanian politician and former adviser to King Abdullah II and King Hussein, as saying that the cameras would not serve Israel's interests but would "document anyone who caries out an assault or Jews who want to pray there."

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Thursday that decisions about the cameras - where they will be installed and who will monitor them - are still at a government level. No steps have yet been taken to implement the plan on the ground.

Meanwhile, a relative quiet returned to Jerusalem this week with the almost daily stabbing attacks by Palestinians against Jews and subsequent shooting and killing of Palestinian suspects shifting to the West Bank.

In Hebron, close to another contested holy site that Jews call the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Muslims the Ibrahimi Mosque, two Palestinians were shot dead in separate incidents. Both had attempted to stab Israeli soldiers, the Israeli military said.

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