Eight months after it was instated as a response to an increase in violence at the site, the Israeli government is set to lift a ban upon members of Knesset visiting the Temple Mount.
The ban was originally imposed in October by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following a sharp uptick in Arab violence, harassment and riots at the Temple Mount, mostly perpetrated against Jewish visitors and Israeli police forces.
The Temple Mount conflict spread throughout Jerusalem and the country as Arab leaders used an imagined threat against Muslim sovereignty at the site to galvanize hundreds of young Palestinians and Israeli Arabs into carrying out terror attacks.
In an attempt to de-escalate growing tensions, Netanyahu forbade members of his government from visiting the site entirely. Most MKs respected the ban, though not all.
Arab member Dr. Basel Ghattas flagrantly violated the ban mere weeks after its instatement, posting an incendiary challenge to Netanyahu on his Facebook page after his provoking visit. “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 wrote.
While the Temple Mount is today under Jordanian sovereignty and various international bodies, including the UN, ignore the Jewish connection to the Mount and insist the site is historically Muslim, the Mount was actually the location of two ancient Jewish temples. The Bible describes the history of the first Holy Temple. The Islamic Dome of the Rock was built nearly a thousand years after the destruction of the Second Temple.
Last month, a number of Arab MKs sent a letter to the government declared their intentions to visit the Mount during the month of Ramadan whether or not the ban remained in effect.
The letter led to a reexamination of the policy. Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevy met with Knesset officials to discuss the efficacy of the ban. Both police officials said that they no longer opposed MKs visiting the Temple Mount, and a decision was made to lift the ban.
The Knesset Ethics Committee will vote on Tuesday afternoon on officially ending the ban; the motion is likely to pass. Muslim Knesset members will be permitted to visit the Mount by the beginning of July, enabling the lawmakers to ascend during Ramadan, while Jewish members will not be allowed up until the following week, after the end of the month-long holiday, which often marks an increase in Arab violence.
According to the “status quo” which governs the site, only Muslims are permitted to actually pray at the Temple Mount. Jews and Christians are permitted to visit during restricted hours, but if they are caught praying or performing any kind of religious action – including holding a Bible or closing their eyes – they are immediately removed from the site and often arrested by the Israeli police.
Noting that the vote has not yet been officially approved, MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) gave credit to the government for its decision. “If they reach the decision that we’re expecting, then first of all we can thank [Speaker of the Knesset] Yuli Edelstein and the prime minister and the head of the police for coming to the right positions,” MK Yehudah Glick (Likud), told Breaking Israel News.
Glick, an ordained rabbi who was an avid campaigner for equal rights on the Temple Mount before he became a member of Israel’s parliament, said he was hopeful the ban would be lifted but emphasized that any MKs who choose to visit should not use the Mount as a platform for incitement, as Ghattas did in October.
“I call upon all of those who ascend Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) to prevent any kind of incitement or any kind of abuse of the Temple Mount to promote any political or national or any kind of agenda,” he urged.
Despite being considered an extremist by many, Glick’s message is one of peace. “I call upon everybody to respect the place, to cooperate and to turn the Temple Mount into a world center of peace and a house of prayer for all nations,” he said to Breaking Israel News, invoking the Biblical vision for the Mount.
He added that actions should be taken against any MK who violates the rules of the site. “I’m hoping that the committee today decides to open the Temple Mount to members of Knesset [but they] should add another point and that is: sanctions against members of Knesset which do not follow the rules.”
“Last time a few MKs incited on the Temple Mount, all members of Knesset were punished,” he pointed out.