The police have already gathered sufficient evidence to bring the suspects before a criminal court for the alleged unprovoked assault. “This looked liked the beginning of a lynch. They punched and they kicked,” testified one archeologists who was attacked. Others involved are expected to be investigated to strengthen the testimony prior to the submission of the indictment against the offending guards.
The suspects, Hamza Nabal, Hamza Disi and Riad Zajeer, who are all residents of East Jerusalem, deny the charges leveled against them.
A delicate and tense relationship between the Waqf, the police, the Muslim and Jewish visitors is preserved on the Temple Mount. According to the Jewish worshippers and other officials, Waqf guards responsible for managing religious institutions as part of the status quo agreements often deviate from their assigned tasks.
On Wednesday morning last week, a group of six archeologists ascended the Temple Mount. They entered the compound as tourists in order to distinguish themselves from Jewish visitors who are escorted by the police and supervised by Waqf guards.
Tzachi Davira, who lead the group, said, “This is a tourist and an investigative project. We sometimes do professional visits as visitors on the Temple Mount,” he told Ynet. “There was never a problem. In the eastern section, where there are no police, one of the participants picked something up from the ground. It looked like an archeological artifact. But one of the Waqf administrators thought that it was an olive. They came towards us and asked us to leave without any authority.”
Davira, whose project has aroused much opposition by extreme Islamic officials, recalled how the attack unfolded: “Seven or eight of them came and they wanted us to leave the Mount immediately. They blocked the way so we couldn’t call to the police and it got physical. They put Yuval Marcus, one of the members of the group, on the ground and started hitting him,” he said.
Marcus, a known tour guide was injured in the attack. “I decided to record it on video but they grabbed the phone from me and tried, successfully, to delete what I had recorded,” continued Davira.
Shortly after the attack, the archeologists made it to the police station near the Jaffa Gate where they reported the attack that had befallen them.
Shortly thereafter, three Waqf guards were placed under arrest. While it was extended on Thursday they were released on condition at the end of the week. During the investigation of the suspects, contradictory versions of events were offered about how events transpired. They stated however that the skirmish had broken out after the visitors “started provoking.”
The defendant's’ attorney said that they had not attacked the visitors but rather that the latter continued to collect items from the mount even after the Waqf guards approached them and asked them to respect the procedures and refrain from breaching them “Things which are off limits even to archeologists without permission were stolen,” he charged.
At the end of the week, the project’s organizers wrote on a blog: “We are all still shaken up by this incident. In the 18 years that I have been a tour guide on the Temple Mount I have never come across such hostility or violence. Regrettably, for many of the people in the group this was their first visit to the Temple Mount and this will remain their first experience of the holiest site of the Jewish people.”