Defying an official ban by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Arab Knesset Member (MK) Dr. Basel Ghattas visited the Temple Mount compound Wednesday morning. Netanyahu prohibited politicians, Jewish and Muslim, from the Temple Mount in an attempt to calm the conflict surrounding the holy site. The ban was honored by both sides, until now.
Along with his provocative visit to the site, Ghattas used social media to proclaim his defiance. In a video he posted on Facebook, he issued a challenge to Netanyahu.
“You and your occupation will not prevent us from exercising our right to pray and visit Al-Aqsa . . . You and your occupation are temporary but this holy place will always remain Islamic and Arabic,” he announced in the video.
His challenge is a bit perplexing since Ghattas is a Christian Arab and the status quo prevents all non-Muslims, including Christians, from praying on the Temple Mount.
On his Facebook page, he claimed to have seen Jews singing and dancing while praying on the Temple Mount, which is a violation of the status quo. As proof, he posted a video showing a group of Jewish visitors standing quietly while being guarded by police. Though he claimed to have documented the illegal activity, his office did not respond to media requests to see the documentation.
Ghattas has taken an active role in the conflict surrounding the Temple Mount. Last week, Israel agreed to a proposal suggested by King Abdullah II of Jordan, who has official authority over the site. The proposal, negotiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry, calls for installing closed circuit security video cameras in the compound. After initially agreeing to the proposal, the Palestinian Authority has rejected the proposal.
Ghattas has come out against the video camera solution as well, submitting a motion to the Knesset for discussion in an attempt to have the Israeli Parliament reject it. He Tweeted in Arabic before his visit, “The decision to install cameras to monitor al-Aqsa Mosque will install Israeli sovereignty over al-Aqsa.”
Ghattas, a representative of Balad, which is part of the Joint Arab List, is no stranger to controversy and has been critical of the Israeli government in the past. On several occasions, he has defended the recent terror attacks by Arabs, claiming they were “innocent Palestinians executed for no reason.”
In June, he was criticized by his own party for participating in a flotilla that defied an Israeli blockade. After a brief and non-violent confrontation, the boat he was on was rerouted to the Israeli port of Ashdod. The other two boats in the flotilla returned without reaching Gaza.