Defying ban, Arab Knesset member visits Temple Mount

Joint List’s Basel Ghattas says Netanyahu can’t keep people from holy site, accuses Israel of seeking to alter status quo

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

MK Basel Ghattas on the Temple Mount on October 28, 2015 (Courtesy Joint List)
MK Basel Ghattas on the Temple Mount on October 28, 2015 (Courtesy Joint List)

A Knesset lawmaker from the Joint List of Arab parties ascended the Temple Mount Wednesday morning, breaking an order by the prime minister for Knesset members to stay out of the flashpoint holy site in a bid to ease spiraling tensions.

MK Basel Ghattas said on Facebook that he went to the site to send a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he can’t stop people from entering the compound.

“Netanyahu and Israel cannot prevent us from entering the mosque and it continues in altering the status quo and bolstering Israeli sovereignty and occupation of the site,” Ghattas, who is Christian, said.

According to the Ynet news website, Ghattas sneaked onto the site while wearing a disguise.

A video of him on the site showed him wearing a cap; a second video he posted showed him standing near the Dome of the Rock with several police officers nearby.

شاهدو باعينكم كيف يدخل المستوطنين للصلاة في الاقصى بحماية الشرطة ! (من زيارتي هذا الصباح للاقصى)

Posted by ‎د. باسل غطاس דר באסל גטאס‎ on Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Netanyahu’s office reacted swiftly with a statement recalling his promise to maintain the status quo and ordering members of his government to “act accordingly.”

Police responded to Ghattas’s visit by saying that they were implementing government decisions.

“We are doing everything to ensure that visitors and worshipers on the Temple Mount respect the holiness of the site and act in a respectful and responsible way in the holy and sensitive public space,” a police spokesperson said.

On October 8, Netanyahu barred politicians from the site in a bid to stem an ongoing wave of violence touched off by Palestinian claims that Israel intended to break the fragile series of understandings governing the site’s administration.

Muslims are allowed to pray in the compound, considered the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, while Jews and others are allowed to visit but not pray.

Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have repeatedly vowed that they have no intention of changing the status quo and allowing Jewish prayer, and on Saturday Netanyahu agreed to a Jordanian proposal to install cameras on the site to ensure transparency.

Several MKs who had been planning on visiting the site canceled in light of Netanyahu’s order.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Ghattas’s visit was liable to lead to more violence.

“Knesset members who infiltrate onto the Temple Mount are Knesset members who are worthy of contempt in my opinion, who are engaged in incitement which will lead to the murder of innocents,” he told a Knesset panel.

He also said Ghattas was only a public figure thanks to his “provocations.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, in an apparent reference to Ghattas, accused Arab lawmakers of working harder than ever “to harm so deeply the well-being of their constituents.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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