Ben Gvir calls to bar ‘Palestinian Authority residents’ from Temple Mount on Ramadan

Far-right minister says it would be unacceptable to ‘allow Hamas victory celebrations’ at the Jerusalem compound while ‘women and children are hostages in Gaza’

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, center, visits the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 21, 2023. (Courtesy: Minhelet Har Habayit)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, center, visits the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 21, 2023. (Courtesy: Minhelet Har Habayit)

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said Saturday that Palestinian residents of the West Bank should be barred from attending prayers at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins around March 10.

“We should not allow residents from the [Palestinian] Authority to enter Israel in any way,” during the monthlong holiday, less than a month away, he wrote on X. “We cannot take chances and risks.”

“It can’t be that women and children are hostages in Gaza and we allow Hamas victory celebrations on the Temple Mount,” he said in a post that came a day after Israeli television reported Ben Gvir was pushing to ban Palestinians from the Jerusalem holy site over Ramadan.

Some 130 hostages taken on October 7 during Hamas’s unprecedented killing spree across southern Israel remain in captivity in Gaza, 30 of whom are dead, according to IDF findings. They were among 253 hostages taken that day when Hamas-led terrorists invaded southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people. Over 100 hostages were released in a late November pause in fighting and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown. Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Ben Gvir has been pushing for a more hardline approach to Gaza and the Palestinians in general, alongside Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party. The two previously advocated for the resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza amid the war and have threatened to bolt the coalition if a “reckless” deal were reached with Hamas on releasing the hostages.

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As minister in charge of the police, Ben Gvir does have some authority over the policy at the Temple Mount, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has overruled him in the past.

Israel typically allows Palestinians from the West Bank to visit the Temple Mount during Ramadan, and the entire security establishment backs maintaining this policy next month for Palestinians above the age of 45.

Ben Gvir is even at odds with the police, which says it is okay with Palestinians above the age of 60 being allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, Channel 12 reported Saturday.

The hardline minister, who has caused massive diplomatic uproar for his own visits to the Temple Mount, is even pushing for banning Arab Israeli citizens below the age of 70 from visiting the site, according to the report.

It’s not clear what legal authority he would have to institute such a policy.

The police supports allowing entry to Arab Israelis above the age of 45, while the Shin Bet says that there should be no limitations on Arab Israeli worshippers.

The Shin Bet is also at odds with the police regarding the presence of security forces on the compound during Ramadan. The Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday that the police has proposed forces maintain an ongoing presence on the Temple Mount to deal with anyone waving Hamas flags or inciting against Israel, while the Shin Bet has argued that no such presence is needed and any agitators could be dealt with at a later time.

File: 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)

Netanyahu is slated to hold a meeting with Ben Gvir and the war cabinet on Sunday to discuss the issue further.

According to a separate, unsourced Channel 12 report Saturday, some government ministers have felt that there has been “a lack of attention on the part of the prime minister and also in the cabinet” on the issue and that Netanyahu has waffled on making a decision. “For weeks now, the issue with the US has been raised and there are no decisions. It becomes dangerous. We are entering the Ramadan period badly, it’s dramatic,” the report cited unnamed “ministers” as saying.

“There is a sense that Ben Gvir has taken the Prime Minister hostage. The result of this is grave. The potential for provocations related to the Temple Mount is immense and worrisome. It seems that Ben Gvir and Hamas, each with their own interests, want to light everything up,” they said, according to the report.

The firebrand lawmaker has toured the site three times since becoming a minister in December 2022, drawing a flood of condemnations each time from Israel’s allies around the globe who view such a step by a politician who has long called for upending the fragile status quo at the site as provocative.

Last week, a US official and an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the Biden administration was highly concerned that Ben Gvir will try and spark tensions at the Temple Mount during Ramadan, in what Washington fears could drag the flashpoint issue of Jerusalem into the ongoing Middle East conflict that it’s seeking to contain, according to a US official and an Israeli official.

The US is worried that Ben Gvir will again visit the Temple Mount during Ramadan, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

As minister in charge of police, Ben Gvir plays a critical role in law enforcement at the site, and there’s concern in Washington as well as within the Israeli security establishment that a directive from above for officers to come down too hard on agitators or enter the Al Aqsa Mosque to quash clashes could risk sparking violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and beyond, the Israeli official said.

Under the status quo, an arrangement that has prevailed for decades in cooperation with Jordan, Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted to tour the Temple Mount during certain hours but may not pray there. In recent years, record numbers of Jewish religious nationalists have visited the site and many have begun praying there as police have increasingly refrained from cracking down on the apparent violation. This has infuriated Palestinians and Muslims around the world who often view these measures as part of an effort to restrict their presence at the compound, which is the third holiest in Islam and the holiest in Judaism, having been the site of the two ancient Jewish temples.

Those fears peak each year during the Islamic month of fasting when the holy site sees a major influx of Muslim visitors, some of whom are known to clash with police.

For the past three years, Biden officials have sounded alarm bells ahead of Ramadan, urging Jerusalem to take steps to lower tensions amid fears of tensions in the city bubbling over, as they did in May 2021 when Hamas rocket fire at the city sparked the last war between Israel and the Gaza-ruling terror group.

But this year, there is even greater concern due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, which was sparked by the October 7 terror onslaught.

Hamas named the attack “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood,” after the mosque atop the Temple Mount, and Iran-backed armed groups in other countries that have joined in the conflict also include references to Jerusalem in their messaging.

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