The Terror Attack on the Temple Mount
Last Friday morning, three terrorists killed two Border Police men, Haiel Stawi and Kamil Shnaan, at the Temple Mount compound and wounded others. Our hearts and prayers are with their families. Officer Haiel Stawi only became a father for the first time 3 weeks ago.
Following this shooting next to the Gate of the Tribes (Bab al-Asbat), the three terrorists fled into the Temple Mount compound, reportedly seeking refuge in the Islamic structures there, and were immediately shot by police.
As a result of this attack, for the first time in decades, the police closed all Old City gates and prevented Muslims from entering for the Friday prayers at the Aksa mosque. Later in the day, Jaffa Gate was opened to the public. No other violent incidents were reported Friday and Saturday.
As reported in The Jerusalem Post, Israel Police Commissioner Insp. Gen. Roni Alsheich said in a press briefing at Lions’ Gate that the measures were taken due to the uniqueness of the attack.
“We are talking here about live fire being shot at policemen inside the Temple Mount after weapons were smuggled inside the compound,” said Alsheich. “This is an unprecedented and unusual incident on the Temple Mount. This is a holy place for Muslims and the attack was carried out by Muslims.”
Alsheich added that it was important for police to search the compound for more weapons that may have been smuggled inside.
“There are some elementary measures that we need to take now and, first of all, a thorough search for firearms,” he said. “We must ensure that there are no more weapons on the Temple Mount. We will take our time and do it in a proper and thorough way.”
The police continued to search for firearms on Saturday and lifted the ban on Muslim worshipers entering the Temple Mount compound earlier today (Sunday) after new security measures were taken at the site. Despite Muslim protest, metal detectors were placed at the entrances to the compound in an effort to monitor and prevent smuggling of weapons inside. Israel continues to assure everyone that it has no plans to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, as Friday’s terror attack by the Temple Mount threatened to spark a third intifada.
Word on the ground is that the security forces searching for hidden caches of weaponry on the Temple Mount have been given free rein to enter all structures and subterranean spaces, and to open any door or lock. The sweeping force is quite large, as evidenced by the large municipal crews sent to clean up after them this morning.
Research-wise, this is an unprecedented opportunity to have access to the entirety of the Temple Mount. This opportunity could be used to fully record all of the the previously uncharted subterranean cavities of the Temple Mount. Currently, research on the subterranean cavities of the Temple Mount is based mainly on surveys and measurements taken by explorers in the 19th century such as Ermete Pierotti, Charles Warren, Charles Wilson, and Conrad Schick who were allowed access by the Muslim authorities. However, none of these researchers and explorers had unfettered access, and many spaces, such as the “Well of Souls” (the pit beneath the cavern under the Dome of the Rock), have never been thoroughly examined.
During the past several years of our research, and while tracking the Waqf’s actions over the past two decades, we’ve encountered evidence of many additional cavities not shown on this 1904 map (above). If weapons are actually hidden on the Temple Mount, these hidden, undocumented recesses would be a logical place to look for them.
In 2009, our director Zachi Dvira published information (in Hebrew) about a series of such cavities previously unknown in the archaeological research of the Temple mount. Among other sources, evidence for such subterranean spaces can be found in the archives of the British Mandate-Era Department of Antiquities about which we just made a blog post. In the archives, there are descriptions for spaces we have never seen on a map such as “a huge space between the double and triple gates,” and “a secret rock-carved tunnel which starts in a pit in the “Elijah” room (near the Double Gate) and descends eastward for several dozen meters.”
We have accrued much more information about these cavities since that publication in 2009, and we hope to publish a second article about these spaces in the near future. Perhaps additional information can be gleaned from descriptions of these spaces by the police forces who searched the Temple Mount in its entirety this weekend.
More Information About the Terror Attack