A storm erupted in the Knesset plenum Wednesday when Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich answered a parliamentary query regarding the police’s closure of the Temple Mount to Jews on Tuesday, the fast of Tisha B’Av, in which Jews mourn the destruction of the holy Temples in Jerusalem.
MK Yariv Levin (Likud), who filed the query, noted that during that incident two Knesset members attempted to ascend to the Mount Tuesday but were blocked by police. He asked if this is a new policy of the Israeli government.
Minister Aharonovich said that there was no decision to systematically prevent MKs from visiting the Mount, and that the matter was one related to security, which is examined in a matter-of-fact way.
At this point in the proceedings, MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud), who has stood at the fore of the struggle to allow Jews freedom of movement on the Temple Mount, asked the minister if he – Feiglin – will be allowed to visit the Mount Thursday, assuming the situation on the Mount is quiet and there is no security problem.
Minister Aharonovich responded vaguely that the answer depends on security considerations.
MK Feiglin asked, again, if he will be allowed on the Mount “tomorrow or in a month’s time,” when the situation has been deemed quiet. He demanded that the minister admit that the considerations were not security related but rather, that the Israeli government fears a confrontation with the Muslim Waqf (Islamic Trust which administers the Temple Mount) and the Jordanian government (which runs the Waqf), which forbid the ascent of Jews to the Mount.
Aharonovich replied that with regard to MK Feiglin, the matter will be examined in accordance with the decisions of the Attorney General, to whom Feiglin previously complained concerning his ban from the Mount. Ahronovich insisted, though, that the considerations were all security related.
Feiglin refused to accept the minister’s answer and demanded that he tell the Knesset and the public when other MKs could visit the Mount. Aharonovich attempted to sidestep the question by responding that he was not engaged in a conversation with him, but answering MK Levin’s query.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein interjected to recommended to Feiglin that he utilize the parliamentary procedures to raise his questions in an orderly fashion.
Freedom of worship
The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site, where the two holy Temples once stood before being destroyed by the Babylonian and Roman empires respectively.
Despite its supreme importance to Jews worldwide, Jews are subject to draconian limitations on the Mount, including a ban on praying, due to the presence of an Islamic complex, administered by the Waqf Islamic Trust, as well as threats by Islamist groups. The Israeli police are able to bypass court decisions upholding the Jewish right to prayer there by citing unspecified “security concerns”, either to ban individuals (as in the case of Feiglin) or even to issue blanket prohibitions on Jews ascending at all (as occurred on Tuesday).
Religious Jews are followed closely by Israeli police and Waqf guards to prevent them from praying, or from carrying out any other religious rituals.
Non-Jewish visitors are not subject to such restrictions.
The last few weeks have seen calls by senior government figures for such practices, deemed discriminatory, to be lifted. The Deputy Defense Minister rejected the police’s blanket ban on Jewish prayer due to alleged “security concerns,” pointing out that it was the police’s job to ensure the safety of all Israeli citizens to freely practice their religion.
His words came after police allowed three groups of Jews onto the Mount but cut short their visits when Arab mobs surrounded them and threatened violence.
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