Knesset member Jamal Zahalka of the Joint (Arab) List took to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Tuesday morning to confront Jewish visitors to the site, which is revered by both Muslims and Jews.
“Crazy criminals, you’re all Kahanists, fascists, racists, get out of here, you hurt Muslims,” he could be seen shouting at a group of Israeli Jews, in video footage of the incident.
Zahalka was referring to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, a mentor of the Jewish ultranationalist cause, whose Kach movement was banned as a terror organization in both Israel and the US.
A police officer at the scene stood between Zahalka and the group, at which point the MK told him, “Why are you letting them in? It’s a disgrace; only to hurt Muslims’ feelings. This is not yours, get out of here, go home, you’re not wanted.”
While prayer on the Temple Mount, the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque, is permitted only to Muslims, visits by tourists and Jews are allowed in small numbers. The compound is controlled by the Waqf, a religious authority sponsored by the Jordanian monarchy. Israel captured the area in the 1967 war, and annexed it, but allowed the Waqf to continue to administer the Muslim holy sites.
“This is my home,” Zahalka later told the group. “You need to get out of my house. You put crazies in here. You have no god.” He then told the police officer who was trying to calm him down that “you, too, have no place here.”
Zahalka was escorted on the Mount by fellow Joint List Knesset members Masud Ganaim and Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya.
Jewish activist Avihai Menahem told the Hebrew-language website Ynet that “many Jews” had massed at the entrance to the Temple Mount in order to enter Tuesday morning.
“Police limited entry to small groups,” he said. “I entered in the second group, and at the entrance to the Temple Mount MK Zahalka stood and screamed at us. The officer on site tried to push him away from the group, but Zahalka continued. He helped fan the hatred.”
Speaking to Channel 2 after the incident, Zahalka said he was “protecting my house, they are invaders and have no right to be there.”
“There is no problem for people from all religions to enter – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists – for an innocent visit to al-Aqsa,” he continued. “But there is a problem and there is resistance to a provocative entry intended to harm the sanctity of the place, to hold prayers.”
The site has seen recurring clashes between Palestinian rioters and police for the past month. On Monday morning, violence there erupted anew, with Palestinian protesters hurling rocks, firebombs and firecrackers at Israeli police forces. The rioters also barricaded themselves inside al-Aqsa.
Israel Police imposed an open-ended ban on male Muslim worshipers under the age of 50 from entering the site after images emerged Sunday night indicating Palestinian protesters were planning for more violence, stockpiling rocks and setting up barricades inside the mosque.
Reacting to the footage of Zahalka, Knesset member Avigdor Liberman, who leads the right-wing opposition party Yisrael Beytenu, called on the attorney-general to put Zahalka on trial for “assaulting Jews and police.”
He added, “Law enforcement authorities must act forcefully in the face of this rioting, which is another element of Joint List members’ efforts to inflame the atmosphere on the Temple Mount and harm Jews visiting there.
“Zahalka yelled to Jews that they should go away and go to hell and said he was ‘defending his home.’ He should know that not only is the Temple Mount not his home or the home of his friends, but that the State of Israel in general is not their home,” Liberman added in a statement.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home party), a proponent of Jewish prayer on the Mount, called on the prime minister and the public security minister to prohibit the entry of Arab MKs to the compound.
“Again and again it seems as though those who incite and cause provocation on the Temple Mount are not Jews who come to realize their moral and Jewish right in the place holiest to the people of Israel, but organized groups led by Arab MKs. I demand that the prime minister and the public security minister immediately ban the entry of Arab MKs to the Mount while also restricting access permanently to any activist who works to foment provocations on their behalf,” he said in a statement.
Ariel has been to the Temple Mount twice in recent weeks.
Overnight Monday, police arrested seven Palestinians suspected of involvement in rioting on the Temple Mount. A statement by the Israel Police emphasized that officers would use “any means available” to “reach each and every perpetrator.”
Israel’s policy regarding the Temple Mount is to allow Jews and tourists to visit the site during specific hours, but to prohibit any form of religious ritual other than that practiced by Muslims.