A week before Ramadan, IDF and police meet to hash out Temple Mount security plan

Security establishment said considering allowing access for Arab Israeli, East Jerusalem, West Bank worshipers, in light of Shin Bit recommendations against harsh limits

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar (left), IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (center) and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (right) meet to coordinate planning ahead of Ramadan, March 3, 2024 (IDF Spokesman)
Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar (left), IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (center) and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (right) meet to coordinate planning ahead of Ramadan, March 3, 2024 (IDF Spokesman)

Israeli security chiefs were meeting Sunday to discuss security plans for the Temple Mount in Jerusalem over Ramadan, given concerns that the Muslim holy month could amplify tensions stemming from the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, according to Hebrew media reports, including Ynet and Maariv.

The discussion between IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai, and Shin Ben chief Ronen Bar came a week ahead of the start of Ramadan, set for March 10.

The IDF Spokesman’s office said the consultation was held to boost coordination ahead of Ramadan, amid the need to ensure freedom of worship for Israeli Arabs and in the West Bank while taking security considerations into account.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Shabtai on Monday to hear their recommendations on what restrictions to enact, alongside discussions between Shin Bet security agency and IDF officials.

Ben Gvir has sought to impose sweeping restrictions to prevent West Bank Palestinians from praying at the Temple Mount during Ramadan, and is even reportedly pushing for banning Arab Israeli citizens below the age of 70 from visiting the site amid the month of fasting, citing the security situation.

Other defense officials have warned such restrictions could serve to greatly inflame tensions.

The Walla news site reported that Ben Gvir and the police chief had agreed over the past 24 hours to recommend some restrictions on worshipers attending prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount over Ramadan. The police chief reportedly backs allowing entry for both Arab Israelis and West Bank Palestinians, while limiting numbers for safety reasons.

Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers attend the last Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 14, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The Shin Bet security agency and the IDF are believed to oppose harsh restrictions over the month of Ramadan, fearing they could stir unrest, as attempts to restrict Muslim access to the holy site, especially during holidays, have sparked clashes in the past.

Walla news added that Ben Gvir supported limiting the number of worshipers allowed on the Temple Mount to a few thousand at a time, to enable police to quickly respond, should any violent disturbances break out.

Exact numbers were expected to be discussed in the Monday meeting.

A police statement quoted by Walla said that the force’s position would be presented to the leadership “and not via the media.”

Police will “continue to do everything in its power to maintain the balance between freedom of worship and public peace and security,” the statement added.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, where two biblical Temples once stood, and the third-holiest site in Islam, making it a central flashpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tours the Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av, July 27, 2023. (Temple Mount Administration)

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims crowd the site for prayers each Ramadan, as religious fervor is heightened. While Israel has imposed restrictions on Palestinian access during times of heightened security tensions, it has refrained from imposing those rules on the country’s Muslim minority.

Officials have expressed worries that the sensitive period could amplify tensions stemming from the war in Gaza — sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacres — which has ignited worldwide Muslim anger toward Israel.

In February, a US official and an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the Biden administration was highly concerned that Ben Gvir, through his policies and actions, could spark unrest at the Temple Mount during Ramadan.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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