Police barred Jews from entering the Temple Mount on Thursday, after Muslim groups threatened violence in the wake of a plan to bring Jewish children to visit the site. The plan, organized by groups encouraging Jewish visits to the Mount, was meant to be an educational program that would demonstrate rituals associated with the Temple, such as the bringing of bikurim ("First Fruits", the gift to the Temple brought on Shavuot).
Over the past few days, chatter on Islamic web sites indicated that the groups would be met by rioters. Instead of seeking to defuse the situation or defend the groups of visiting children, police chose to capitulate to the threats, and announced that they were closing the Mount to all non-Moslems out of “concern for public safety.”
The decision came only a little while before the tour was set to begin, at 8:30, and after dozens of children and their families – many coming from far distances – had already gathered at the Kotel.
Groups sponsoring the visit strongly criticized the police for their decision. In a statement, the groups said that the police decision was “unfair, and gives a prize to violent attackers who threaten the victims – simple, peaceful families whose only desire was to visit the Temple [site] with their children and observe the special rituals of the Shavuot holiday. We look forward to the day that Israel will have more worthy security organizations, and to the day that police will understand their role, and stop avoiding it,” the statement said.
Over Shavuot itself, the groups reported, hundreds of Jews were able to visit the Mount – but they were a small percentage of the thousands who sought to get in. Police severely limited Jewish access to the Mount, with visitors being allowed to enter only in small groups beginning on Tuesday, the day before Shavuot. In several instances, dozens of Muslims sat and blocked the entrance of the Mughrabi Gate, used by non-Muslims to ascend the Mount. Those Jews who did manage to run the Arab gauntlet – with little, if any, police assistance – were followed and harassed by Muslims, and verbally assaulted the entire time they were on the Mount.
Police intervened only after a riot broke out – with their response to close the gates of the Mount to Jews altogether, evacuating the Jews who had managed to enter via a side exit.