Holy access: The twists and turns of the two-year ban on MKs at the Temple Mount
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Holy access: The twists and turns of the two-year ban on MKs at the Temple Mount

Two Jewish MKs visited the contested site on Tuesday, culminating a lengthy series of promises, flip-flops, counter-proposals and compromises

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

An Israeli policeman patrols the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, October 21, 2015. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90, File)
An Israeli policeman patrols the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, October 21, 2015. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90, File)

Two Jewish Knesset members visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tuesday for the first time since October 2015, when the government barred MKs from going there as part of an attempt to reduce tensions amid a wave of terror attacks against Israelis that was linked to the flashpoint site.

After ending the ban, at least for a one-day trial period, the government and police have said they will now assess whether to allow lawmakers to visit the site on a regular basis in the future.

The Temple Mount compound, Judaism’s most holy site as the location of the biblical Temples and the third-holiest site in Islam, has been out of bounds for both Jewish and Muslim MKs for nearly two years.

Since the 2015 ban was first put in place, the prime minister, the police and Knesset members have been engaged in an ongoing battle of announcements, flip-flops, counter-proposals and compromise decisions over the future of lawmakers’ visits at the site.

Here are the major turning points of the debate over the past two years:

October 7, 2015 — PM bans Jewish MKs from Temple Mount

In a move seemingly aimed at reducing a surge in Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis and violent clashes between security forces and Palestinian rioters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders police to prevent ministers and members of Knesset from entering the Temple Mount, a key point of tension.

The initial ban, however, did not not apply to Muslim Knesset members who were still to be allowed to access the al-Aqsa Mosque at the site.

The decision came after a number of Jewish politicians had made public visits to the site, including Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) and MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) who was filmed days earlier yelling and cursing at a Palestinian woman at the site.

October 8, 2015 — Ban extended to include Muslim MKs

Facing fierce criticism from ministers and MKs in his coalition, Netanyahu rushes to add Muslim Knesset members to the ban a day later.

Minister Uri Ariel on the Temple Mount on March 16, 2014 (photo credit: Uri Ariel's spokesman's office)
Minister Uri Ariel on the Temple Mount on March 16, 2014 (photo credit: Uri Ariel’s spokesman’s office)

Ariel had argued that banning just Jewish MK’s was “comparable to blaming the rape victim for the rape because she was walking around in short sleeves.” Likud MK Zeev Elkin said the initial move was akin to changing the fragile status quo at the site by banning Jewish prayer there, at least for some.

Lawmakers from the Joint (Arab) List vowed to challenge the new decision, warning they would not honor the ban.

October 28, 2015 — Arab Knesset member defies ban

Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas ascends the Temple Mount, breaking the ban on MKs.

“Netanyahu and Israel cannot prevent us from entering the mosque and it continues in altering the status quo and bolstering Israeli sovereignty and occupation of the site,” Ghattas, who is Christian, wrote on Facebook.

MK Basel Ghattas on the Temple Mount on October 28, 2015 (Courtesy Joint List)
MK Basel Ghattas on the Temple Mount on October 28, 2015 (Courtesy Joint List)

November 2, 2015 — Police say they’ll enforce ban

Acting Israel Police chief Bentzi Sau sends a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein informing him that police will prohibit the entry of MKs to the Temple Mount “until further notice.”

“In light of police’s responsibility for the security of people and property and in light of my authority as set in the Police Order (New Version), 1971… and in light of the opinion of the attorney general, I decided that until further notice the entry of MKs to the Temple Mount will be prohibited,” Sau wrote.

He added that he is “well aware of the freedom of movement granted by law to members of Knesset, and will not delay in alerting you as soon as the security situation allows this ban to be overturned.”

May 25, 2015 — Arab MKs announce they’ll defy ban

Three Muslim lawmakers announce their intention to break the ban in order to pray at the site during the month of Ramadan.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers attend the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan outside the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on June 2, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Palestinian Muslim worshipers attend the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan outside the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on June 2, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

In a letter sent to Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Edelstein and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, Joint (Arab) List MKs Masud Ganaim, Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya and Taleb Abu Arar 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. “Carrying out this religious obligation is a basic right and part of our way of life as religious Muslims,” it added.

May 25, 2016 — Temple Mount activist Glick enters Knesset

Likud MK Yehuda Glick is sworn in to the Knesset after former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon resigns from parliament, allowing the next person on the Likud list — Glick — to become an MK.

A renowned Temple Mount activist and former director of Haliba, an organization that brings Jewish groups to visit the Temple Mount, Glick was shot and seriously hurt in 2014 by a Palestinian gunman who branded him the “enemy of Al-Aqsa.”

Likud MK Yehuda Glick is congratulate by fellow members of the Knesset after his swearing in, May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Yehuda Glick is congratulate by fellow members of the Knesset after his swearing in, May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

During his maiden speech, Glick vowed to change the “absurd and evil” ban for MKs and to fight for increased provision for Jewish prayer at the site.

June 13, 2016 — Police tell Knesset they support ending ban

Alsheich and Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevy tell Edelstein during a meeting at the Knesset that the force no longer opposes visits to the site by MKs. They cite an updated intelligence assessment indicating that politicians’ visits are not likely to result in renewed violence.

In a compromise proposed by police, Muslim lawmakers were to be allowed to renew their visits to the site in the last week of Ramadan — corresponding to the first week of July that year — and Jewish lawmakers would be allowed to renew their visits the following week.

June 28, 2016 — Netanyahu extends ban amid renewed violence

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Israeli Police Chief Roni Alsheikh at Police headquarters in Jerusalem on April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Israeli Police Chief Roni Alsheikh at Police headquarters in Jerusalem on April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan decide to override the police recommendation and extend the ban due to a flare-up of riots and violent demonstrations at the site, which resulted in the injury of one 73-year-old Jewish woman at the Western Wall Plaza who was struck by a rock thrown by Muslim demonstrators.

Erdan said after a meeting with the prime minister that police would conduct a “situational assessment” and make a decision about future visits “depending on the situation and subject to developments at the Temple Mount.”

October 25, 2016 — Police again recommend lifting ban

Police propose that cabinet ministers and MKs be allowed to visit the site as long as they fulfill a number of conditions, including prior notification of a visit, limits on visiting hours, agreeing to enter without a security entourage or journalists, and a ban on delivering speeches at the site.

Netanyahu said he would meet with police chiefs to “hear their positions and then make a decision” but that “until then, there is no change in the policy.”

March 28, 2017 — Glick petitions High Court against ban

Glick petitions the High Court to force the government to allow MKs to visit the Temple Mount. In his petition, Glick and the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, which he chairs, ask the court to order the attorney general to develop regulations limiting the prime minister and public security minister’s freedom to interfere in operational police decisions.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 28, 2017. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Yehudah Glick outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 28, 2017. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

May 20, 2017 — Arab MK visits Temple Mount despite ban

Joint (Arab) List MK Masud Ghnaim visits the Temple Mount, defying the ban on Knesset members going onto the holy site, before being escorted away by police.

Ghnaim said he went up to “bless the dozens of Arab volunteers who came to Al-Aqsa to renovate and clean ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, an even that has been held every year for a long time and to fulfill my right to pray in the mosque.” He was spotted by Israeli police who escorted him off the site.

July 7, 2017 — Netanyahu says he plans to lift ban for trial period

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, October 09, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, October 09, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL)

Netanyahu announces that the ban on MKs visiting the Temple Mount will be lifted for a trial period to determine if visits by MKs would cause unrest at the holy site.

Following discussions with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, the prime minister decided that from July 23 the ban on MKs going to Temple Mount would be lifted for a period of seven days to assess the fallout from the move.

July 20, 2017 — Pilot scrapped after Temple Mount terror attack, riots

The planned pilot to allow MKs to visit the Temple Mount is scrapped following a series of violent Palestinian protests against increased security measures at the site, installed after a deadly attack there in which three Arab-Israeli Muslims shoot dead two Israeli police officers with guns smuggled into Al-Aqsa mosque.

August 24, 2017 — Police announce day’s trial for MK visits

Police announce that Knesset members will be allowed to enter the Temple Mount for one day as part of a “trial” coordinated with the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The decision was made in light of the improvement in the security situation at the compound,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

MK Yehuda Glick (C) walks barefoot, escorted by Israeli police and supporters, inside the flash-point Al-Aqsa mosque compound, also known as the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem's Old City on August 29, 2017. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
MK Yehuda Glick (C) walks barefoot, escorted by Israeli police and supporters, inside the flash-point Al-Aqsa mosque compound, also known as the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem’s Old City on August 29, 2017. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The announcement came hours after Glick and Jewish Home MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli were stopped by police while attempting to enter the Temple Mount compound through the Mughrabi Bridge entrance.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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