Netanyahu to lift ban on MKs visiting Temple Mount
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Netanyahu to lift ban on MKs visiting Temple Mount

Seven-day trial period to start in 3 weeks; decision comes after Likud MK petitioned High Court against restriction

On a tour of the Temple Mount, Yehuda Glick shows religious Jews a diagram of the Jewish temple, believed to have once stood where the golden Dome of the Rock stands today. September 17, 2013.(Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
On a tour of the Temple Mount, Yehuda Glick shows religious Jews a diagram of the Jewish temple, believed to have once stood where the golden Dome of the Rock stands today. September 17, 2013.(Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

A ban on Israeli lawmakers visiting the flashpoint Temple Mount in Jerusalem will be lifted for a trial period later this month, the government said Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Jewish and Muslim lawmakers off the site a year and half ago, after the outbreak in October 2015 of a wave of Palestinian violence and terror attacks centered around claims that Israel was attempting to take control of the Temple Mount compound.

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

The development came after MK Yehudah Glick, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party and activist for the right to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, filed a High Court of Justice court petition against the ban.

“The decision to open the Temple Mount is fair and just,” Glick said in a statement. “It is a shame that we need to go to the High Court in order for the decision to be taken.”

Glick, who has campaigned for Jewish rights at the site and was a frequent visitor there until the ban was enforced, called on all Knesset members to go up the Temple Mount while also “respecting the site in a suitable manner and leaving disputes and [political] agendas outside the compound.”

MK Jamal Zahalka (second from right) on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 (courtesy Joint List)
MK Jamal Zahalka (second from right) on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 (courtesy Joint List)

The MK also called on the prime minister and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan “to act as necessary against those who would exploit the decision for terror acts.”

“We will continue to wish that the Mount will fill its purpose, to become a world center for peace and reconciliation,” said Glick, who, in November 2014 before becoming a member of parliament, was shot by a Palestinian assailant due to his campaigning for Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount.

The pilot run of visits is aimed at determining if visits by MKs cause unrest at the holy site.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest site in Islam. High-profile visits by Israeli officials and rumors of changes to the status quo have preceded outbursts of violence.

Knesset lawmakers have been banned from visiting the Temple Mount since November 2015 as part of an attempt to reduce tensions amid an uptick in terror attacks against Israelis that included car-ramming and stabbing attacks.

Some MKs have gone despite the ban. In May, MK Masud Ghnaim of the Joint (Arab) List party’s Islamic Movement faction went up to the Temple Mount as part of an annual event preparing the site for Ramadan. Ghanim was escorted out of the compound by Israeli police.

Ghnaim and two other Joint List MKs belonging to the Southern Branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement said Sunday that the lifting of the ban was inconsequential as they weren’t heeding it anyway.

“Our visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque as Arab and Muslim members of Knesset was not and will never be linked to the government or prime minister of Israel,” they said in a statement. “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is a holy place for us as Muslims and it’s our right to be able to visit and pray there.”

Three of the Joint List’s 13 current Knesset members are part of the movement.

MK Masud Ghnaim of the Joint List is escorted off the Temple Mount by Israeli police on May 20, 2017 (Courtesy)
MK Masud Ghnaim of the Joint List is escorted off the Temple Mount by Israeli police on May 20, 2017 (Courtesy)

In late March, Netanyahu indicated he would consider lifting the ban on lawmakers entering after three months — a period that would avoid a series of sensitive dates including a visit by US President Donald Trump, Ramadan, and Israel’s celebrations of capturing Judaism’s holiest site in the 1967 Six Day War.

Netanyahu’s statement came after Glick filed his court petition.

In October 2016 police advised that Jewish and Arab MKs could renew the visits to the Temple Mount, Channel 2 reported.

The opinion was based on a review presented by the Jerusalem region police to Commissioner Roni Alsheich and Erdan. Police listed 14 conditions for MKs to visit, including notifying ahead of time that they are visiting, visiting only in the morning, and arriving without a security detail or media accompaniment. Police also demanded that MKs not make any speeches at the site.

In September 2015, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians escalated into near-daily attacks amid false speculation that Israel sought to change the status quo at the Temple Mount, under which Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray, at the site. Israel has repeatedly denied seeking any change to arrangement which has been in place since 1967. The site is managed by an Islamic foundation under the auspices of Jordan — the Waqf — but Israel controls access.

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