Ben Gvir reportedly makes it a ministry policy to change Temple Mount status quo

Far-right minister, who advocates Jewish prayer at Old City compound, said to include ‘preventing discrimination and racism’ in ministry’s work plan, wants to boost police control

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023. (Courtesy Minhelet Har Habayit)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023. (Courtesy Minhelet Har Habayit)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has reportedly made it his ministerial policy to change the status quo at the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem by apparently easing Jewish prayer at the flashpoint holy site, and boosting police enforcement there.

The National Security Ministry’s annual work plan now includes formal goals for the changes, the Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday.

Israel has for decades agreed to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount, whereby Jews are allowed to visit under police guard but not pray. The number of Jewish visitors has ballooned over the past few years and authorities have quietly allowed inconspicuous Jewish prayers.

Ben Gvir, who heads the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, is an ardent proponent of Jewish rights on the Temple Mount and has visited the site during his tenure as minister.

One goal entered in the ministry’s annual plan is “strengthening governance on the Temple Mount, providing basic rights and preventing discrimination and racism on the Mount,” the report said — an apparent reference to restrictions on Jewish prayer at the holy site.

The work plan also calls for expanding the use of Israel Police technology on the Mount and bolstering police presence.

In 2017, deadly clashes erupted after police set up metal detectors at access points to the Temple Mount. The metal detector gates, installed after three Arab Israelis fatally shot two Israeli police officers using guns they had smuggled into the holy site, prompted escalating Muslim protests.

Worshipers refused to go through them, and clashes with police in and around Jerusalem increased daily, with three Palestinians killed on one day. Later the same day, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed to death three Israelis at their Shabbat dinner table in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.

Israeli security forces fire tear gas to disperse Palestinians after clashes broke out at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 27, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Neighboring Jordan, which views itself as custodian of the Temple Mount — a status Israel does not recognize — had been highly critical of the placement of metal detectors at the site, as were the Palestinians, who alleged the security measures were a bid by Israel to assert control over the Temple Mount and thus a change to the status quo, a charge Israel repeatedly denied.

Israel eventually backed down, removing the metal detectors and special security cameras that were also installed following the shooting.

Although the national security minister has heavy influence over the Temple Mount since he has authority over the police force, which determines arrangements there on a daily basis, broader policy over the Mount is ultimately in the hands of the prime minister, who will often make decisions on the basis of recommendations from his National Security Council.

The developments at the National Security Ministry come amid roiling tensions in the region stemming from the ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the terror group’s savage October 7 attack, when thousands of terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking 253 hostage.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, where two biblical Temples once stood, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also located there, is the third-holiest shrine in Islam, making the site a central flashpoint of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Non-Muslim visits to the Temple Mount are normally permitted for three and a half hours in the morning and an hour in the afternoon from Sunday to Thursday.

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