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Minister’s bid to limit MKs visiting Temple Mount shot down by attorney general

Omer Barlev defends proposal as intended to protect lawmakers, as officials warn of potential for violence ahead of Ramadan, Passover holidays

Illustrative: An Israeli police officer stands guard as a religious Jew in army uniform visits the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 3, 2021. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)
Illustrative: An Israeli police officer stands guard as a religious Jew in army uniform visits the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 3, 2021. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev instructed Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to limit Israeli lawmakers from visiting the Temple Mount as tensions heat up ahead of Ramadan and Passover — but was quickly shot down by the attorney general, according to Hebrew media reports.

Newly appointed Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara reportedly wrote a letter to Barlev notifying the minister that he was not authorized to make such a decision.

“You have no authority to instruct the police commissioner to prevent the entry of Members of Knesset to the Temple Mount,” she wrote. “The issue is under the supervision of the prime minister and the defense minister,” she added, noting that such a decision would require a threat to national security and would need to be approved by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.

According to Ynet, Barlev said the police were responsible for safeguarding the lives of Israeli lawmakers, implying that any visit by an MK to the Temple Mount is inherently dangerous.

In a statement to Channel 12 news Tuesday evening, Barlev said the report “distorted” his original request, noting that he only sought to limit MKs from visiting the site if there were clashes and riots at a particular moment in time.

“There is no doubt that the freedom of movement of members of Knesset is absolute all year round, anywhere in the country, including on the Temple Mount,” Barlev said, reiterating his belief that police should act to protect any MKs if there is “a threat to their life.”

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends a ceremony at the Israel Police National Headquarters in Jerusalem, September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Under Israeli law, Knesset members enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution for any act they perform while fulfilling their public duty. This allows them almost complete freedom of movement, Baharav-Miara noted in her letter to Barlev.

Visits by Israeli lawmakers to the Temple Mount — one of the most contentious sites in the country — have long been seen as controversial, and MKs have been turned away from the site in the past. Tensions at the holy site were seen as a key factor in the escalation in violence last year that led to the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The site was closed to Jewish visitors for 20 days during the violence last May.

Shortly after the report, firebrand Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir stated that he would visit the Temple Mount as soon as possible.

“Barlev is a scared minister who gives into terrorism, but more than that he acts without authority, like the last of the dictators, and needs to resign,” Ben Gvir said in a statement.

The MK, who has been part of repeated scuffles into the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in recent months, said he will “go up to the Temple Mount as I am accustomed to… the public security minister, even if he doesn’t like MKs visiting Temple Mount, can’t prevent it.”

US and Israeli officials have warned of a potential uptick in violence as the Muslim and Jewish holidays of Ramadan and Passover are slated to converge.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman, on March 10, 2022. (Courtesy)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with Jordanian King Abdullah in Amman last week, proclaiming that “we must work together to calm tensions and promote understanding, particularly in the lead-up to the month of Ramadan and Passover.” Jordan’s Waqf is the body that patrols atop the Temple Mount.

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar reportedly warned US officials during a visit to Washington over the weekend that tensions could spiral out of control next month.

And a US official told The Times of Israel last month that Biden administration officials at the highest levels of the National Security Council and the State Department are concerned developments in Jerusalem could once again escalate and spill over regionally.

Following consultations with diplomats and experts on the ground, the Biden administration has identified the confluence of religious holidays in April as a “recipe for disaster in Jerusalem,” a US official said.

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