In an unparalleled move, the IDF announced Tuesday that it would help facilitate the use of special shuttles from Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria to the Temple Mount ahead of the month-long Ramadan holiday.
Officials of the Israeli defense establishment plan to ease travel restrictions placed on the movement of Palestinians, instituted in response to the Second Intifada, between June 18 and July 17 as a goodwill gesture.
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai confirmed that Palestinian worshippers will be shuttled via special buses from Ramallah and Bethlehem to the Al-Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers.
“For the first time, the arrival of worshippers will be allowed via bus directly from the city centers to the Temple Mount,” Mordechai said in a statement. “The IDF will allow the entry of all Palestinians – men and women without a special permit – with the exception of men under 40.”
Further, the army will facilitate the travel of thousands of Palestinians from Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip into Israel to visit relatives. Travel is to be limited to immediate family members only, Mordechai added.
“For the first time, 200 families from Gaza have been approved to visit residents in the West Bank during Ramadan and the Id al-Fitr holiday,” the statement explained, adding that already 800 Palestinians from Gaza have been approved to attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount.
Some 650 Palestinians living abroad have been granted special visas to travel to Israel and visit their relatives living in Palestinian controlled areas. The visas were issued on condition that they leave Israel upon the conclusion of Ramadan.
For those wishing to travel overseas, the defense establishment has granted some 500 visas to Palestinians to travel through Ben-Gurion International Airport. Hundreds of travel requests made by Palestinians wishing to make the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, have been given approval to travel via the Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan.
The Israeli government’s decision to ease access for Palestinians to the Temple Mount comes at a precarious time between Israeli and Palestinian relations. Non-Muslim visitors to the Mount are notoriously physically and verbally harassed by Palestinians, many times violently.
Jews are forbidden to pray atop the Temple Mount, considered the most holy site in all of Judaism, by the Muslim Waqf, who controls the Temple Mount compound. Despite an Israeli court’s decision that ruled that Jews must be “allowed to pray on the Temple Mount,” the ruling has been widely ignored by the Israeli Police.
Arrests by the Israeli police of Jews thought carrying out any form of religious action on the site have become increasingly common.
Well-known Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who survived an October 2014 assassination attempt for his work on the Temple Mount, told Breaking Israel News, “I am happy that Muslims are being given the opportunity to worship their religion as they should.”
Glick, who was shot four times in the chest by a Palestinian terrorist, was previously banned for two years from ascending the Temple Mount for his advocacy work on expanding Jewish access to the holy site.
“I hope that they will use this special time for repentance and prayer and not take advantage of the time for violence on the Temple Mount as has happened in past years. If, God forbid, they start to incite, I hope that the police will act immediately to stop any violence,” he told Breaking Israel News.
On Tuesday, in a special Knesset committee convened to discuss Jewish presence on the Temple Mount, the meeting quickly turned into a shouting match as MKs hurled insults at one another.
Ten minutes into the meeting, Arab Balad MK Jamal Zahalka called Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal a fascist. “If I’m a fascist, then you’re a terrorist,” Magal retorted. In response, Zahalka threatened that “blood will flow” if the status quo on the Temple Mount is changed.
Last year, amid rumors that Israel was attempting to increase a Jewish presence on the Mount, tensions and unrest flared across Jerusalem, leading to a series of terror attacks against Jews.
Tensions finally died down after an intense police crackdown and repeated promises by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel did not seek to change the status quo.