Ben Gvir seeks to permit Jewish visits to Temple Mount on last 10 days of Ramadan

Non-Muslims usually barred from visiting highly sensitive holy site at culmination of Muslim holy month; security officials ‘discussing’ far-right minister’s request

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Security forces guard Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount during Passover, in Jerusalem's Old City, April 9, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
Security forces guard Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount during Passover, in Jerusalem's Old City, April 9, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is pressing to for permission for Jews to visit the Temple Mount during the last 10 days of Ramadan, a period of time when such visits have in the past been prohibited.

Although Jewish visitation to the holy site is permitted in the first 20 days of the Muslim month of fasting, it is usually shut down completely during the last 10 days since that is when the Laylat al-Qadr falls — the holiest night of the year in Islam ,which as such is considered to be particularly sensitive in terms of security concerns.

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

Senior security officials have been been informed of Ben Gvir’s request and are examining the request, the minister’s office said.

But Channel 13 news, which first reported the story, said that senior cabinet officials have stated that the national security minister’s request will not be granted due to the extremely tense security situation in Jerusalem owing to the ongoing war in Gaza and concerns of unrest among the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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

Muslim worshipers perform Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Friday, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

During the first 20 days of Ramadan, visits to the site for non-Muslims are permitted only in the morning hours.

This year’s Ramadan comes amid boiling tensions in the region stemming from the ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the group’s savage October 7 attack, when thousands of terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages.

Although the national security minister has heavy influence over the Temple Mount since he has authority over the police force, which determines arrangements on a daily basis at the site, 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.

Before the start of Ramadan last Sunday, Ben Gvir had sought to restrict the numbers of Muslim worshipers allowed at the site during the holy month, including Arab Israelis, but was ultimately overruled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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

Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers took part in the first Friday prayers of Ramadan on the Temple Mount last week. The prayers ending without incident despite efforts by terrorist groups to spark conflict in the holy city.

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

In a statement on Thursday, Hamas had called on its followers to “participate urgently in defending Al-Aqsa Mosque against the aggression that lurks in these critical times.”

In past years during Ramadan, Palestinians have at times barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, some with explosives and rocks. Police operations to clear them out have often resulted in violence.

Last year, two consecutive nights of clashes between police officers and Palestinians at the mosque sparked barrages of rocket fire from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

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