Palestinians should halt the ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem “in every possible way,” Arab MK Jamal Zahalka told a Palestinian news outlet on Thursday.
He later tempered his comments, in a statement released in Hebrew.
In an interview with Donia Al-Watan, the Joint List lawmaker also claimed the number of Jews visiting the flashpoint site is growing daily. The Temple Mount is the holiest shrine in Judaism, and the location of both ancient Jewish temples. It is also is the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and houses Islam’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine.
The MK called for Palestinian organizations to embark on a “popular struggle” against Israel, six months after the start of a wave of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces that have claimed the lives of 29 Israelis and four non-Israelis. Close to 200 Palestinians have been killed in the violence, some two-thirds during the course of attacks they were carrying out and the rest in clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.
“During the Second Intifada, we sacrificed 4,000 martyrs for the sake of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the continuation of [visits] by the Jews are the cause of the current intifada,” Zahalka told the news website, citing an inflated number for the Palestinian casualties of the violent Palestinian uprising during 2000-2005, which included multiple suicide and other terror attacks against Israelis. Some 1,000 Israelis and 3,200 Palestinians were killed in the violence, according to official figures.
“The question is if the [Palestinian] groups will join the popular struggle and act at a national level, or they will leave it to the youths who are carrying out lone-wolf attacks?”
But in a statement issued after reports of his interview began to surface in the Hebrew-language media, Zahalka watered down his comments, claimed his intention was to avoid bloodshed and that authorities should prevent provocative visits to the Mount.
“It is my public duty to warn against the possibility of a dangerous deterioration, as a result of right-wing people entering Al-Aqsa,” Zahalka said in his statement. He cited the rioting that followed a September 2000 visit to the site by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, which he said “led to the outbreak of the Second Intifada and to the killing of more than four thousand people” — a number closer to the total fatalities of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Earlier this week an Israeli nonprofit revealed it had carried out a furtive Jewish wedding on the Temple Mount, in violation of delicate status quo at the site, which bans Jews from praying there.
“Everything must be done to prevent additional bloodshed, and if the Israeli government is interested in calming things down it needs to prevent provocative visits to the mosque areas,” Zahalka said in the later statement. “It needs to understand that the problem is in the visits, and not in the call to end them.”
His comments came on the same day as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that he would not tolerate any incitement to violence from “extremist elements” ahead of the Jewish festival of Passover.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.