In order to secure US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the Western Wall on Tuesday, the Israeli Police placed that area of Jerusalem on lockdown, closing off the Western Wall and its surroundings to both vehicles and pedestrians for four hours. However, in an extremely unprecedented move, Amit Branchuk, the police officer in charge of the Temple Mount entrance, went around to the roadblocks and personally accompanied any Jew who wanted to ascend the Temple Mount at that time.
Vice President Pence paid a short, 15-minute visit to the Western Wall on Tuesday but the security preparations effectively prevented anyone who wanted to pray at the Western Wall from doing so for several hours. For Jews who wanted to visit the Temple Mount, the security measures could have caused them to miss the small window of time allotted for Jews and other non-Muslims to ascend.
Much to the surprise of the visitors, Branchuk made a tour of the roadblocks, searching for people who wanted to visit the Temple Mount. Branchuk also accompanied those Jews to the Temple Mount entrance. When they arrived, they were pleased to see the compound was almost entirely vacant, removing any concern of there being large crowds of protesting Muslims.
Shimshon Elboim, a Temple Mount activist, praised Branchuk’s actions, telling Breaking Israel News that they were part of a growing trend in which the Israeli police, led by Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevi, are becoming more supportive and accepting of an increasing Jewish presence on the Temple Mount.
“This stands in sharp contrast to similar situations in the past in which the security establishment emphasized Muslim access at the expense of the Jews,” Elboim told Breaking Israel News.
In an article published on their website on Monday, the United Temple Mount Movement praised the security establishment, singling out Halevi for his personal involvement.
This development comes after a long period during which security concerns led police to restrict Jewish visitation. Despite a ruling by an Israeli magistrate court in 2015 in favor of enforcing religious equality on the Temple Mount, the Israeli Police had cited security reasons at the time to justify continuing a policy that prohibits Jews from praying at the site. Jews who visited the site were subjected to rigorous security checks and were accompanied by police and Waqf guards.
According to Asaf Fried, spokesman for the United Temple Movements, the strictness of the police went beyond what was required for security. Fried felt that at the time, the security establishment viewed Jews who wanted to ascend the Temple Mount as extremists and responsible for escalating tensions at the site. As such, the police worked to prevent Jews from visiting the site and to reduce their numbers. Fried believes that the current attitude of the security establishment is that the site should be readily available to all who wish to visit.
“This has come as a result of top-to-bottom changes from everyone involved in the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount,” Fried told Breaking Israel News.
“For three years, Morabitat, (Muslim women paid by the Waqf to harass Jewish visitors) were given free rein to yell at Jews on the Temple Mount,” he added. “Jews were limited to four hours per day to visit and were forced to wait for hours to ascend, and if the time of visitation had passed, they were simply turned away.”
“Two and a half years ago, Gilad Erdan took over as Minister of Public Security,” Fried said, explaining that Erdan abandoned the policy of routinely responded to Muslim violence by closing the site to Jews.
“He appointed Yoram Halevi as the police chief,” Fried continued. “As police chief, he doesn’t make policy but he does decide how the policies are carried out. The Moribitat were removed and were not permitted to return.”
This difference has helped to significantly boost the number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount, and the figures show it. In 2009, 5,658 Jews ascended to the Temple Mount and had doubled by 2015. Just two years later, a total of 25,000 Jews visited the site.
Fried attributes these results not only to a changes in official policy but also an increase in the public’s interest over the issue.
“It used to be unpleasant to stand there while the Muslims yelled at us,” Fried related.
The United Temple Mount Movements also specifically praised Halevi for his role in promoting Jewish rights on the Temple Mount.
“He has taken it on as a personal mission that any Jew who wants to ascend,” Fried said. “Even if someone arrives five minutes before closing, he will be permitted to enter the Temple Mount compound.”
Halevi’s role in helping Jews ascend the Temple Mount is professional but it also reflects his family’s Biblical role in the Temple, one which will only increase after the Temple is built. As his name implies, the police chief is from the tribe of Levi, which was charged with several key roles in the Temple including guarding the complex.
I hereby take your fellow Leviim from among the Israelites; they are assigned to you in dedication to Hashem, to do the work of the Tent of Meeting. Numbers 18:6
The prophets have also implied that the tribe of Levi will have a leading role in the construction of the Third Temple.
Elboim noted that Halevi’s benevolent approach to his job has produced positive results.
“The chief is a friendly man but anyone who has dealings with him knows that he is tough and gets what he wants,” Elboim said, noting that Halevi served in special anti-terror units when younger. “This attitude is good for the Jews, and though they may not admit it, it is also good for the Muslims who go there to pray.”
Elboim cited Isaiah, saying that the actions of the police were bringing the Temple Mount closer to its prophesied role.
I will bring them to My sacred mount And let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices Shall be welcome on My mizbayach; For My House shall be called A house of prayer for all peoples. Isaiah 56:7
“The place is calm and much more pleasant for everyone who goes there,” Elboim said. “Much closer to being a House of Prayer for All Nations.”