Israel Prize-winning author A.B Yehoshua on Tuesday slammed religious Jews who want to pray on the Temple Mount — and Diaspora Jews for not coming to live in Israel.

On the occasion of Tisha B’Av — the Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction of the two Jewish temples in Jerusalem — he told Army Radio in an interview that the real tragedy behind the day of mourning was not the destruction of buildings, but the fact that too many Jews still live overseas and do not understand that they have a motherland.

“All peoples are connected to their motherlands and our problem is that people don’t understand what a motherland is,” he said.

“The problem is that half the nation doesn’t even think of returning to Israel. The problem isn’t some building. There’s a mosque there, an exquisite mosque that was built 1,300 years ago. There’s also the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And we should be proud that in Jerusalem we can combine the three monotheistic religions,” said Yehoshua, whose ancestors came to Jerusalem in the mid-19th century.

“The Western Wall is there. Do you need to send Jews to pray on the Temple Mount? Would you be pleased if the Muslims came and bowed down at the Western Wall and prayed there?

Jewish men pray at the Wall Western in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 31, 2017 to mark the beginning of Tisha B'av. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jewish men pray at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem to mark the beginning of Tisha B’av, July 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“That’s [the Muslims’] house of prayer. Our synagogues are spread all over the world and we want people to respect them and look after them. And we have to respect the places of prayer of others.”

Many Jews exiled by the Babylonians in the sixth century BCE failed to return to Israel, he said, and during the Second Temple period, from 530 BCE to 70 CE, half of the Jewish people already lived in the Diaspora.

“Maybe the people found in the destruction of the temple an excuse to leave Israel,” he said.

“After the temple was destroyed, for 400 years it was a heap of rubble. The Jews didn’t even clean it up. They left Israel, and that’s the problem. And if the temple is rebuilt, what, there’ll be salvation here?”

The first Zionists were secular people who told Jewish immigrants to settle areas such as the Negev, the Jordan Valley and the Jezreel Valley, not to go to Jerusalem, he added.

There was something symbolic in the decision of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to settle in the Negev Desert and “not to rub up against the Palestinians on a place that is holy to them.”