A first-of-its-kind debate over the right of non-Muslims to enter, and pray at, the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem was held at the Knesset on Tuesday, with over 30 MKs from both right wing and left wing parties requesting to voice their opinion on the divisive topic.
Almost all of the parliament’s Arab members chose not to attend the discussion in protest over the decision to hold it.
The debate, headlined “the loss of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount” and rescheduled from last week, was initiated by right-wing lawmaker MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud), whose visits to the Temple Mount have drawn media and police attention. Feiglin was arrested for praying there in October 2012 and January 2013, before he became an MK, and visited the Mount earlier this week ahead of the debate.
“The Israeli leadership is shirking its calling,” Feiglin said at the opening of the session, during which he called for Jewish freedom of worship at the site where the first and second Jewish temples once stood.
“Behind the back of our people we gave up on any vestige of Israeli sovereignty at the Mount. Every terrorist organization can wave their flag there, but the flag of Israel? It must not be mentioned. Reciting a psalm is grounds for arrest. Even wearing a skullcap [at the site] is inadvisable by police standards.”
The Temple Mount is jointly administered by the Jordanian government and the Jerusalem-based Islamic Waqf, an arrangement that has been in place since Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed them. Regarded as a holy site by both Judaism and Islam, proposed changes to the status quo at the Mount are often a source of unrest.
Police restrictions bar Jews from praying or engaging in other religious activities while on visits to the Mount for fear that they will provoke a violent reaction from Muslims.
MK Zahava Gal-on of the left-wing Meretz party stated that though she believes Jews have a right to pray at the Temple Mount, such a right must be expressed only after consulting with Palestinian and Arab representatives. Feiglin’s proposal, Gal-on said, was “a match that could ignite the powder keg on which the Middle East rests,” and implementing it “would harm the peace process.”
“Anyone who today calls [on Israelis] to ascend to the Temple Mount is creating a provocation whose sole purpose is to blow up the relationship between Israel and the Arab world,” she said.
Responding to Gal-on, Likud MK Miri Regev said freedom of worship was not up for debate.
“Why can a Muslim cry out loud in his own language that ‘there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet and messenger,’ yet a Jew cannot enter the Temple Mount and recite out loud ‘Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One?'” Regev asked, concluding that “he who gives up on the [Temple] Mount will be left without a home.”
Earlier Tuesday, Israeli police were showered with stones and firecrackers on the Temple Mount, as Palestinian youth protested the debate over the contested holy site.
The clashes began when officers opened the Mughrabi Gate, an entrance to the Temple Mount next to the Western Wall that only provides access for non-Muslims.
Police dispersed The perpetrators, some of whom were masked, with stun grenades. Two police were lightly injured and three suspects were arrested.
Palestinian media reported dozens of protesters were injured by rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.The Ma’an news agency said two Palestinians were seriously injured, one from a rubber bullet shot to the nose.
Hamas and Palestinian Authority officials, together with leaders of the Islamic Movement in the Galilee, have long accused Israel of planning to take control of the Muslim sites on the Mount.
Last week, the planned Knesset debate drew condemnation from Jordan’s parliament, whose Palestine Committee said a move to expand Israeli control over the sensitive site would be a violation of “Jordanian national sovereignty and is tantamount to a breach of the peace treaty signed between Jordan and Israel.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.