Jordan Denounces Israel For Crowd Control at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Maintaining order is allowed for everyone -- except the Jews.

It apparently was not enough for Jordan to denounce the Jewish state for its attempts to protect its citizens who were under attack from rioting Arabs on the Temple Mount. Now it has rebuked Israel for its attempts to maintain order during the “Holy Fire” ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A report is here: “In fresh public rebuke, Jordan condemns Israel for Holy Fire crowd restrictions,” Times of Israel, April 24, 2022:

Jordan condemned on Sunday Israel’s restrictions on attendance at the “Holy Fire” ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem a day earlier, the latest in a series of recent public rebukes by Amman.

All Israeli measures aimed at restricting the right of Christians to free and unrestricted access to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to perform their religious rites, including imposing restrictions on the number of worshipers, are rejected and condemned,” said spokesman Haitham Abu Al-Ful in a statement released by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry.

Israel has a responsibility to make sure that visitors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are kept safe. That includes crowd control, to avoid sudden surges of visitors that can lead to panic, and stampedes that can prove fatal. Just recently in Israel, such a sudden surge at an Orthodox Jewish religious gathering at Mt. Meron in 2021 led to a stampede in which 45 Jews were trampled to death. At Mina, in Mecca, in 2015, a similar stampede at the entry to the Jamaraat Bridge resulted in the deaths of 2,241 Muslim pilgrims. Those events were surely on the minds of Israeli police, taking care not to allow the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to be packed with too many visitors at one time, for their own safety, and not in order, as the Jordanian condemnation says, to prevent “free access [to Christians] to perform their religious rites.”

“Israel, the occupying power, must respect the historical and legal status quo in Jerusalem and its sacred [sites], and stop all restrictive measures,” the statement read.

Of course, there has to be crowd control when there is an unusual influx — as there was to view the “Holy Fire” ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — and limits placed on the numbers allowed in to a confined space, whether at a church or at a rock concert. As some visitors left the Church, others were allowed in, in an organized flow directed by the police. Imagine the outcry if the Israelis had not put limits on the number of visitors allowed into the Church at any one time, and some accident – a visitor who trips on a step and falls, grabbing at another pilgrim who, in turn, also falls down, leading to a widening gyre of panic, or a lit candle that sets a tapestry alight, leading to panic and to the kind of stampede in which many people might be trampled to death. Israel would never hear the end of it. Think of the stampedes at Mecca that routinely occur because of poor crowd control at bottlenecks along the route; in the Mina stampede of 2015, 2,431 people died. Surely the government of Jordan knows perfectly well why the Israeli police had to limit the numbers of visitors in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre allowed in to see the “Holy Fire” ceremony.

Thousands of Christians celebrated the Holy Fire ceremony on Saturday amid new restrictions on attendance this year that Israel said were needed for safety.

Several clashes erupted between police and worshipers who were kept outside the compound.

Videos shared online showed a policeman pushing a man and grabbing him by the throat after he attempted to break through a police barrier.

Authorities applied a safety law to the Holy Fire ceremony, limiting crowd size commensurate with space and the number of exits.

Israel said it wants to prevent another disaster after a crush at Mount Meron last year left 45 people dead in one of the worst disasters in the country’s history.

Israel also divided a priestly blessing service for Jews at the Western Wall during the Passover festival into two services, again citing crowding concerns.

The Israeli government was not singling out Christian visitors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for having limits placed on their numbers. It has done the same for Jews, as when it arranged for there to be two services, not one, to handle the unusual number of Jews who wanted to be blessed at the Western Wall during Passover. Limits were placed on them as well. 

However, church leaders rejected any restrictions on principle, saying they infringe on religious freedom.

Nonsense. Crowd control measures were in this case a matter of saving lives; they no more “infringe on religious freedom” than do the number of fire exits, or sprinkler systems, that houses of worship are required to have.  

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, like the Temple Mount, is governed by a decades-old set of informal arrangements known as the status quo. As at the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, seemingly minor violations at the church have ignited violence, including brawls between monks of different denominations.

The condemnation from Amman was the latest in a number of steps taken by Jordan against Israel in recent days, albeit largely symbolic ones.

Amman summoned Israel’s ambassador for a dressing down last week after police entered the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount multiple times to quash Palestinian riots.

Jordan’s government, always worried about the 60% of the country’s population that is Palestinian, has been denouncing Israel so that the King can maintain his popularity and deflect any unhappiness with his rule onto the Jewish state. He knows that Palestinian rioters started the conflict on the Temple Mount by hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall far below, and at the police trying both to keep them from throwing those potentially lethal weapons, and to disarm them. King Abdullah also knows that the only reason the police entered Al-Aqsa mosque was to pursue rioters who had run inside, and to seize the rocks and Molotov cocktails that had been stockpiled inside the Mosque. There was no intention to “seize” Al-Aqsa, which the Israelis entered and exited as quickly as they could.  

Jordan has accused Israel of violating the status quo at the site {Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif], under which Muslims are allowed to visit and pray while Jews cannot pray and may only visit during restricted time slots.

As Yair Lapid has repeatedly said, in response to Arab criticism, there has been “no change to the status quo” at the Temple Mount. Jewish visitors may not pray, either aloud or silently, on the Temple Mount. Just think: Jews are not allowed to pray at the holiest site in Judaism, in order not to offend Muslim sensibilities. Furthermore, Jews are allowed to visit the site only for four hours a day, on five days of the week. In other words, Jews – whose numbers on the Mount are strictly limited by the Israeli police – can visit Temple Mount only during 20 hours each week. By contrast, unlimited numbers of Muslims – 100,000 showed up at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on April 22 — can pray on Temple Mount, all day long, every day of the week.   

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the biblical temples. Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the mount, is the third holiest shrine in Islam.

This year, major Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holidays have converged, and tensions have soared as tens of thousands of people flock to Jerusalem’s Old City to visit some of the holiest sites for all three faiths for the first time since the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Israel says it is committed to ensuring freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

So let’s see. Israel allows Muslims by the tens of thousands to visit the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, at any time of day, and any day of the week. At the same time, Israel does not allow Jews to pray, aloud or silently, at the holiest site in Judaism. Israel limits the numbers of Jewish visitors, and allows them to visit the Temple Mount only during a four-hour period, and on only five days of the week. Everything is being done to accommodate Muslims at the expense of Jews. Yet the nonsense continues from the Palestinians and their willing collaborators: Israel is plotting to “seize” Al-Aqsa and turn it into a synagogue.

Now we have an attempt, by Jordan, to turn the crowd control measures at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre into a deliberate attempt to interfere “with religious freedom.” Tell us, Jordanian spokesman: are the crowd control measures put in place by the Saudis after the Mina stampede at Mecca in 2015 an example of interfering “with religious freedom”? No, I didn’t think you’d say so. And you’re right; these were safety measures, designed to save lives by limiting the number of pilgrims at a well-known bottleneck just before the Jamaraat Bridge.

It was the same at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Israeli police enforced crowd control measures for the safety of the Christian visitors. They wanted to avoid a Christian calamity akin to what happened to Jewish visitors to Mt. Meron, and to Muslim pilgrims at Mina, in Mecca. The Israeli safety restrictions – limiting the number of visitors allowed into the Church at any one time — had nothing to do with impinging on “religious freedom.” But the Jordanians, determined to find fault with Israel, will continue to condemn the Jewish state nonetheless. Call it pusillanimity, call it hypocrisy, call it miching mallecho. When it’s Arabs against Israel, there is no end to this.

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