I made it up to the Noble Sanctuary-Temple Mount for Ramadan the other day with about a half an hour to spare before non-Muslims had to decamp. With it’s huge surface open to the sky, the Temple Mount-Noble Sanctuary was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It’s a great place to be. It used to be that non-Muslims had free run of the place. Anyone could pretty much go up whenever they wanted, and I remember once visiting both mosques, Al-Aksa and the Dome of the Rock.
I think this all changed with and after the Second Intifadah. Now access to non-Muslims is restricted in general, and more so during the month of Ramadan. Some of this has to do with religious reasons regarding the control of access to holy sites during holy times. And some of this has a lot to do with keeping rightwing Jewish religious nationalists from attempting to pray up there. So does the police presence. Caught in the middle, its function is both to maintain dominance and keep the peace, as variously construed.
On Tisha B’Av a couple days previously, things were more tense. Rightwing Israeli Jewish demonstrators sought access to the site to make a political point. The cops kept them out and tamped things down. Later a haredi Jewish guy got stabbed outside of or near to Damascus Gate on his way back home after prayers at the Wall.
The day I was there everything “was” perfectly normal. Tourists and non-tourists, local people and the police all mixed more or less easily, pretty much ignoring each other. Most local folk milled around in small groups, reading and talking and waiting out the fast in shady spots before going to Al-Aksa for the next service. The police were just there, their presence mostly at but not limited to the gates. Tourists poked around, charmed by the handsomeness of the place. There was no fighting, no pushing, no violence, no yelling, no rocks, no shooting, no coldness. And then we had to leave. Later that evening, on my way out of the Old City, there were throngs of people streaming from Silwan through the Jewish Quarter on the way to Al-Aksa.
I’m assuming the place remains closed to Palestinians from the West Bank, although I’ve been told that this year it has been easier than in years past.