On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Jewish members of the Knesset and other government ministers are forbidden from visiting the Temple Mount due to the recent increase in violence in Jerusalem and across the country.
The measure was adopted in an attempt to avoid “dangerous provocations” and de-escalate the tensions that have been steadily rising in the last few weeks in the Old City of Jerusalem, where the Temple Mount is located. Within the past week, three separate Palestinian stabbing attacks against Jews have taken place in the Old City, killing two men and wounding a woman, a baby, and another man.
The directive will not be enforced against Arab members of the Knesset, several of whom ascended to the Temple Mount last week and made violent speeches proclaiming that Jewish prayer will never be permitted at the site, which is the holiest in Judaism.
MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) called the Israeli Police who monitor the Mount “criminals” and “lunatics” and said, “I will personally expel every Jew who comes to the Temple Mount in a provocative manner.”
However, these MKs will still be allowed to visit the Temple Mount without restriction.
Government ministers who regularly visit the site were dismayed by the move. Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel, who has said in the past that he wants to see the Third Temple built on the Mount, said that it was “unacceptable and incomprehensible to separate Jewish and Arab parliamentarians,” adding that he planned to speak to Netanyahu personally about the ban.
Tensions on the Mount, which is a place of religious contention and uneasy truce between the Islamic Waqf which controls it and the Israeli Police that enforce its security, have been steadily on the rise in recent months. Recently, Arab rioters have taken barricading themselves in the Al Aqsa Mosque in order to throw firebombs, rocks and debris at police in order to stop Jews from ascending.
Terror has spread throughout the country in recent days, from the roads of Judea, where a couple was gunned down in front of their four children last week, to the suburbs of Tel Aviv, where a terrorist attacked Jews at a mall in Petah Tikvah yesterday.
When asked for comment on the directive, Rabbi Yehudah Glick of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation told Breaking Israel News, “If after every wave of attacks that Netanyahu says is initiated by Arabs in order to keep Jews from the Temple Mount, we reward terrorism, we are in trouble. If Arab MKs went to the Temple Mount in order to condemn the rioters and encourage the security forces, I would understand, but right now, since it seems that all the Arab members are interested in is fanning the flames, and they go up to the Temple Mount in order to agitate, this decision is surprising.”
He added, “It’s difficult to understand why out of all people, our prime minister, who works so hard to calm the tension, is preventing members of the Knesset who come to the Mount out of basic human need and is allowing those who encourage disobeying the law. In order to please the King Abdullah [of Jordan], should we hurt ourselves?”
UPDATE: After a firestorm of controversy and sharp criticism from government ministers over the ban, both from his own coalition and from opposition members, Netanyahu has announced he will extend it to include Arab MKs as well.