In what may very well be a historic turning point in the struggle for equality of religions on the Temple Mount, 42 Jews responded to an aggressive attempt by the Jerusalem Waqf (Islamic Religious Trust) to prevent them from touring the site, by singing praises of God. The Israeli police escort immediately responded by expelling the group of Jewish tourists from the Temple Mount, detaining them and threatening to revoke their rights to visit the site in the future.
The group, which included members of the “Returning to the Mount” movement, ascended the Temple Mount on Wednesday on the occasion that it was Rosh Chodesh (The New Moon) for the new Hebrew month of Shevat. The monthly New Moon is a considered a minor holiday in Judaism, and many Jews choose to signify the day by visiting the Temple Mount, the Jewish people’s holiest site.
In an agreement signed between Israel and Jordan after the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel liberated the Temple Mount along with the rest of the Old City, the status quo was upheld allowing the Muslim Waqf to administer the site while recognizing the right of Jews to visit the holy site with unimpeded access.
As per Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Israeli law mandates freedom of religion and universal prayer at holy sites, but Israeli police have chosen to abide by restrictions that prohibit Jews from praying in the Temple Mount so as to avoid a violent Muslim backlash. Tensions at the site, however, have only been growing since US President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Yesterday was very unusual and it is clear that the situation at the Temple Mount is boiling over,” Asaf Fried, spokesman for the United Temple Movements explained to Breaking Israel News. “Since Trump’s announcement, the Palestinians are afraid that they are losing their grip on Jerusalem and they are responding with anger and violence.”
Fried explained that ever since a Palestinian terror attack on the Temple Mount last July in which two Israeli security personnel were killed, the Israeli police has limited the Jerusalem Waqf to providing one Muslim escort for every visiting Jewish group. The Muslim escorts watch and make sure Jews do not pray at the site.
In recent weeks, however, the Waqf has actually assigned more than one of its members to each Jewish group visiting the site. The “Returning to the Mount” movement yesterday, had five Waqf guards assigned to them at the outset.
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, a highly respected Rabbi who founded the Temple Institute in 1987 with the long-term goal of building the Third Jewish Temple, is a member of the movement who visited the Temple Mount on Wednesday.
“The five Waqf guards set the volume of their radios high in order to bother us,” Rabbi Ariel told Breaking Israel News. “Five more guards showed up and they began shouting, some yelling ‘Allahu Akhbar’ (Allah is greater).
“More Arabs showed up and joined in,” he continued. “To our great shame, the police did nothing, so we responded by singing out ‘Adonai hoo ha’elohim’ (our master is God). Some of our group shouted out the Shema (the Jewish declaration of God’s kingship) as well as the set of Psalms that are traditionally said on the New Moon.”
Rabbi Ariel has a strong personal connection to the Temple Mount, as he was one of many IDF troops who helped unify Jerusalem in 1967. When the IDF arrived at the site, he was assigned to guard the Temple Mount while the other soldiers continued onward towards other sections of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Ariel remains just as determined to keep the Temple Mount in Jewish hands.
“If we do not remain strong in the face of these provocations, we will be like sheep among wolves and our fate will be sealed,” Rabbi Ariel said.
The Returning to the Mount movement blamed the police for focusing on the Jewish visitors instead of dealing with the aggressive Arab rioters.
“We condemn the treatment of Jews by police on the Temple Mount,” the group said in a statement.
“Not only do the Jews go up [to the Mount] under supervision and restrictions as though they lived in an apartheid regime, they also get arrested when they try to defend themselves against provocations of the terrorists of the Wakf – the Jordanian representatives who think that they rule the Temple Mount.”
“It is about time to determine who is the sovereign on the Temple Mount – the State of Israel or the enemy state of Jordan,’ the group added.
Fried believes the Muslim aggression against Jewish visitors on the site was planned in advance by the Waqf, referring to other provocations by the Waqf including attempts to initiate building projects on the Temple Mount that could very well destroy invaluable Jewish artifacts.
Coincidentally, the Israeli High Court has heard closing arguments in a case against the Israeli police launched by United Temple Mount Movements, a coalition advocating for Jewish rights at the site. The High Court will decide if the police are violating the rights of Jews by prohibiting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.