Arab MKs plan to defy ban, visit Temple Mount on Ramadan
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Arab MKs plan to defy ban, visit Temple Mount on Ramadan

3 Muslim lawmakers say they have a 'religious duty' to pray at the site; Knesset sergeant-at-arms says move could spark violence

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Knesset members from the Joint (Arab) List walk outside the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 (courtesy)
Knesset members from the Joint (Arab) List walk outside the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 (courtesy)

Three Muslim lawmakers have announced their intention to break a Knesset ban on visiting the flashpoint Temple Mount complex to pray at the site during the upcoming month of Ramadan.

In a letter sent to the Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich on Wednesday, Knesset members from the Joint (Arab) List said that it was their religious duty to visit the site and declared they would defy the directive.

“On behalf of Knesset members from the Islamic Movement (Ra’am), we announce our intention to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan and pray there,” read the letter, first revealed by Channel 2 news Wednesday night.

“Carrying out this religious obligation is a basic right and part of our way of life as religious Muslims,” it added.

The letter was signed by the Joint (Arab) List faction head MK Masud Ganaim, who also heads the Ra’am Islamic Movement faction of three MKs within the party of 13. The other two lawmakers are Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya and Taleb Abu Arar.

Hadash MKs during a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, November 2013 (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Hadash MKs during a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, November 2013 (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Last month, Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich renewed the open-ended ban on Israeli lawmakers visiting the Temple Mount complex.

The directive was issued in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which Alsheich wrote: “In light of attempts by many extremist elements from both sides to create provocations… I surmise that at this time, ascent to the Temple Mount by Knesset members is likely to result in an exacerbation of tensions and an escalation of incidents that would cause a real endangerment of the security of the state.

In a bid to quell tensions over the holy site that helped spark months of Palestinian terror attacks and protests in the West Bank, Netanyahu had previously ordered police to prevent lawmakers from visiting the Jerusalem site.

The ban was initially issued just to Jewish Knesset members but was soon amended to include Arab MKs as well after fierce criticism from ministers in his coalition who said the directive was discriminatory.

The head of the Knesset Guard, Sergeant-at-Arms Yossi Grif, slammed Wednesday’s announcement by the three Arab MKs, saying it was “liable to worsen tensions and cause an escalation in incidents on the Temple Mount.”

He warned that going against the police directive could “constitute a violation of ethics rules [for Knesset members] and may result in sanctions.”

Palestinian protesters throw stones and burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces over the Temple Mount, close to the Hezma checkpoint in the West Bank, September 30, 2015. (Flash90)
Palestinian protesters throw stones and burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces over the Temple Mount, close to the Hizma checkpoint in the West Bank, September 30, 2015. (Flash90)

The Temple Mount, site of the ancient Jewish temples, has been at the center of months-long tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, who fear growing a Jewish presence at the site, which is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Netanyahu has vowed to keep the status quo banning Jewish prayer at the holy site in place, as the merest rumors of changes to regulations in the compound, revered by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary, has led to flare-ups of Palestinian violence.

On Thursday, Temple Mount activist and new MK Yehudah Glick said he would file a complaint against the Arab lawmakers with the Knesset Ethics Committee over their plan to ignore the directive.

On Wednesday, Glick, who has called for an end to a ban on Jewish prayer at the holy site, was sworn into the Knesset as a member for the Likud party after former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon resigned last week.

Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, October 19, 2015 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, October 19, 2015 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Glick, who directs Haliba, an organization that brings Jewish groups to visit the Temple Mount, has pledged to work within the Knesset to change the “absurd and evil” arrangements at the volatile compound.

Glick was reprimanded by Netanyahu after vising the site on Monday. “This is the last time you do this to me,” Netanyahu was heard telling a stunned Glick at the end of a Likud faction meeting on Monday afternoon.

Glick has said he will adhere to Netanyahu’s ban once in office.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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