Proposed Cameras At Jerusalem Shrine Put The Focus On Mutual Mistrust
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Now let's report on an effort to ease conflict in the Middle East. It's a proposal to put up security cameras within the sensitive compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif. Predictably, the proposal itself is a subject of contention. Here's NPR's Emily Harris.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: In the crowded streets of Jerusalem's Old City, Ami Meitav can hardly take a step without someone - Arab or Jew - saying hello.
Meitav used to be the Old City coordinator for Israel's internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet. He knows where the cameras are, and he shows me.
There's a camera, right?
AMY MEITAV: There's a camera.
HARRIS: Where's another one? There's another one right here - so maybe 20 meters away.
We get to a crooked stone staircase that leads to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. This entrance is for Muslims only. It's well off the beaten track. Three cameras hang here. Israeli police officers also check IDs at the gate. Church bells peal as Meitav explains that the cameras stop here.
MEITAV: Last one is here. From here to the Temple Mount, we don't see nothing. We can see from outside, but we don't have an inside camera.
HARRIS: Israeli surveillance cameras do see into the Temple Mount, or Al-Aqsa compound, from the outside already. But Meitav says for such a flashpoint, it's not good enough.
MEITAV: Can't see enough detail in all the area.
HARRIS: On a rare public tour, I see the police screening room, where footage from all cameras currently in the Old City comes in. Captain Moshe Zrien says they pay particular attention to anything happening on the Temple Mount.
CAPTAIN MOSHE ZRIEN: (Through interpreter) A simple event here in the Temple Mount can lead to a diplomatic crisis, to war, to disturbances in other Islamic states and, of course, here as well.
HARRIS: The current upsurge in violence started over Muslim perceptions that Israel was changing what it calls the status quo, rules of access to the Temple Mount. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defines that as, Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit. Videos of clashes there and deadly incidents outside have been shared widely on both sides and interpreted very differently. The idea of cameras is to provide one set of uncontestable facts.
DANIEL SIDEMAN: The assumption is if only people knew the facts, all of this would be better.
HARRIS: Daniel Sideman is an Israeli lawyer focused on Jerusalem issues. He's skeptical cameras will help.
SIDEMAN: I can see Netanyahu sitting in his office here in Jerusalem and watching the footage and say, hey, we're maintaining the status quo. And I can see King Abdullah in Amman seeing the same footage and saying, these guys are acting contrary to decorum in a very provocative way.
HARRIS: The plan to put cameras on the Temple Mount was proposed by Jordan's King Abdullah and agreed to by Israel, which says this will show who is causing the problems there. Abdullah has historic, formal responsibility for the Al-Aqsa compound. Sheikh Azzam Tamimi runs the Jerusalem office of the Jordanian religious authority, the Waqf, and fiercely claims only it will have final say over where cameras go.
SHEIKH AZZAM TAMIMI: (Through interpreter) We will not allow the Israeli security agencies to have any kind of relation or any intervention in the putting of these cameras. This is a task done, decided upon and implemented by the Waqf.
HARRIS: Some Muslims hope cameras could prove that religious Jews are violating the status quo by visiting in large groups and by praying. Yitzchak Reuven of the Temple Institute, which promotes Jewish visits, acknowledges some Jews do pray covertly. He doubts cameras will change that. They're already surrounded, he says, by Israeli police and vigilant Palestinians.
YITZCHAK REUVEN: Their job is specifically to watch us, watch our lips. And as soon as somebody even looks like they're praying, they point. They tell the policeman, he's praying. And the policeman takes you off the Temple Mount.
HARRIS: Reuven doesn't expect that close watch to change either, even with cameras broadcasting from Jerusalem's most contested holy site live to the Internet. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.