US: 'Action that jeopardizes the status quo is unacceptable'

Ben Gvir visits Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av, drawing rebuke from US, Jordan, Saudis

Minister, other lawmakers ascend to flashpoint site without incident; 16 Jewish visitors, 2 Arabs arrested over disturbances; record numbers said to tour site on fast day

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tours the Temple Mount on Tisha B'Av, July 27, 2023. (Temple Mount Administration)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tours the Temple Mount on Tisha B'Av, July 27, 2023. (Temple Mount Administration)

Far-right National Security Itamar Ben Gvir visited the flashpoint Temple Mount site Thursday for Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of national mourning, prompting anger from Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terror group as well as a rebuke from Washington.

It was Ben Gvir’s third visit to the site while serving as a cabinet minister. Each visit has prompted a furious reaction from the Arab world.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry warned that alleged unilateral measures by Israel at the site and violations of the status quo “threaten to escalate the situation into more rounds of violence.”

“We warn against the dangerous consequences of allowing the extremists to reach the mount and allow them to carry out provocations,” the ministry added.

In a statement following Ben Gvir’s visit, the US Embassy in Israel said it “stands firmly” for preserving the status quo and the site, adding that “any unilateral action or rhetoric that jeopardizes the status quo is unacceptable.”

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it has allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the Mount.

The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry charged Ben Gvir’s visit was part of “an official Israeli cover for the ongoing invasions and the plans to Judaize the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to impose forced changes on the existing historical and legal reality, as an inseparable part of the Judaization of Jerusalem.”

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem called the visit a “dangerous escalation” and a “provocation” to the Palestinian people, vowing that they would not allow Israel to carry out its alleged “plans” at the site.

“Our people will defend the identity of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque and protect its Islamic and Arab character at all costs, because Al-Aqsa has always been the trigger for revolutions and rebellions,” the statement read.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also condemned Ben Gvir’s visit to the site, calling it a “flagrant violation of all international norms and agreements” as well as a “provocation to all Muslims around the world.”

Negev and the Galilee Development Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf, a member of Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party, and Likud MK Amit Halevi also ascended the mount to mark Tisha B’Av under tight security. The politicians’ visits passed without incident.

Negev and the Galilee Development Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf (left) tours the Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av, July 27, 2023. (Temple Mount Administration)

According to Hebrew-language media reports, some 1,000 pilgrims had toured the site by 10 a.m., surpassing the count of Jewish visitors at the site on Tisha B’Av in previous years.

Police said they arrested 16 Jewish visitors and two Arabs over disturbances at the site Thursday morning. No further details were given.

Observant Jews fast the entirety of the day in mourning of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE, and then of its replacement in 70 CE. A major reason for the catastrophes cited in tradition is the division and hatred between different groups in Jewish society. The two temples were located at the flashpoint site.

“On this day, in this place, it’s very important to remember, we are all brothers. Right-wing, left-wing, religious, secular, we are all the same people. When a terrorist looks out the window, he doesn’t discriminate between us. Unity is important, and love of Israel is important,” Ben Gvir said in a statement.

“This place is the most important place for the people of Israel where we need to return and show our governance,” he added.

Wasserlauf tweeted his hope for the “redemption” of the Jewish people and “the building of the [Third] Temple soon in our days, amen.”

Jews pray at the entrance to the flashpoint Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, during Tisha B’Av, on July 27, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The site is considered the holiest in Judaism, as the location of two biblical temples, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Mount is the third-holiest shrine in Islam, turning the area into a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Under the status quo, an arrangement that has prevailed for decades in cooperation with Jordan, Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted to visit the Temple Mount during certain hours but may not pray there.

In recent years, Jewish religious nationalists, including members of the new governing coalition, have increasingly visited the site and demanded equal prayer rights for Jews there, infuriating the Palestinians and Muslims around the world.

Last week, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef accused Ben Gvir of “sinning and causing others to sin” by visiting the Temple Mount.

Yosef said Ben Gvir has defied multiple rabbinical rulings stating that Jewish Orthodox law forbids Jews to enter the Temple Mount, citing principles detailed in halacha, Jewish Orthodox law, about preserving the purity of the site, considered the holiest in Judaism.

Ben Gvir defended the visits in response, saying that he was following the advice of his own rabbis, who said it was a “mitzvah” — the Hebrew word for duty or commandment — to visit the site.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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