Ben Gvir to be first Israeli minister on Temple Mount in five years

Yerushalayim built up, a city knit together, to which tribes would make pilgrimage, the tribes of Hashem, —as was enjoined upon Yisrael— to praise the name of Hashem.

Psalms

122:

3

(the israel bible)

January 2, 2023

3 min read

Itamar Ben Gvir, Netanyahu’s new coalition partner, announced he intends to ascend to the Temple Mount on the day commemorating events leading up to the destruction of the Temple. His announcement triggered threats of violence from many quarters.

On Sunday evening, Ben Gvir, the head of the Otzma Yehudit party, informed the police that on Tuesday, he intends to visit the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. On the Hebrew calendar, Tuesday is the tenth day of Tevet, a fast day commemorating the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar that led to the destruction of the Temple. Kan Broadcasting reported that the timing could be subject to change. 

The police will hold a hearing on Monday to decide on the matter. As the head of the National Security Ministry, Ben Gvir essentially heads the police. 

This will mark the first time in five years that a sitting Israeli minister will visit the site. 

In a CNN interview on Wednesday, Jordanian King Abdullah II warned the incoming Israeli government not to cross Jordan’s “red lines” with regard to Jerusalem’s holy sites

“If people want to get into a conflict with us, we’re quite prepared,” he said. “I always like to believe that, let’s look at the glass half full, but we have certain red lines… And if people want to push those red lines, then we will deal with that.”

Hamas threatened on Monday that Ben-Gvir’s planned visit to the Temple Mount ” will lead to an escalation of the situation.”

Ben Gvir had Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount as part of his campaign platform. He has described the current police policy of prohibiting non-Muslim prayer as being racist. Equality of religion is mandated by Israeli law but the law permits the police to curtail this right for security concerns that prioritize Muslim violence. 

The majority of Israelis support allowing Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount. 

Netanyahu has stated in the past that he will not permit Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. During coalition negotiations earlier this month, Likud rejected outright a demand from Otzma Yehudit to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. The coalition agreement pledged to retain the current rules regarding the holy sites in Israel.

One possible reaction to Ben Gvir’s visit might be for Netanyahu to place a ban on MKs visiting the site after he is sworn in as prime minister. In 2015 he instituted a ban on MKs visiting the site that lasted for three years. Several Arab MKs disregarded the PM’s ban and visited the site nonetheless.

The visit could ignite smoldering conflicts in the Knesset between Ben Gvir and Ahmad Tibi, the leader of the Arab Ta’al party, Tibi and Ben Gvir have clashed in the past. In July 2021, Ben Gvir was physically removed from speaking at the podium of the Knesset after calling Tibi a “terrorist”. Tibi has described Ben Gvir as a “racist and fascist”, threatening to call for an international boycott of Israel should Ben Gvir become a minister. 

Tibi, who visited the Temple Mount during the ban and raised a Palestinian flag on the site, stated before the last elections that any changes to the current “status quo” would “ignite the Middle East.”

According to the current rules, Muslims are allowed almost unrestricted access to the site. Jews are only permitted to visit the site via a single gate for a few hours every day after security checks. They must walk through quickly on a set route in limited groups with police accompaniment and oversight. Ritual items are prohibited. At times, Jewish visitors still pray on the site despite an official police policy prohibiting non-Muslim prayer.

In September 2000, a visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon and a Likud party delegation to the site was blamed for sparking off the second Intifada. Most experts discount this version of events, assigning blame to Arafat who used Sharon’s visit as a handy pretext.

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