One day after a shooting that left Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick in critical condition, scattered riots broke out across the Old City and the Temple Mount was closed to both Jewish and Arab visitors for the first time in more than five years.
Glick was shot at least three times at close range outside Jerusalem’s Begin Center following a conference about the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. A man suspected to be his shooter, Mut’az Hijazi, was shot to death by security forces the following morning.
Police arrested four right-wing activists who tried to forcibly enter the Temple Mount through the Mughrabi Gate next to the Western Wall on Thursday morning. Dozens of activists then marched from the Western Wall to the Menachem Begin Center, calling for Israel to reopen the site for Jewish prayer. Likud MK Moshe Feiglin also tried to enter the Temple Mount on Thursday morning but was turned away.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that security and intelligence forces would decide late on Thursday night whether to reopen the site to Muslims for Friday prayers.
It is one of the first times that the Temple Mount has been closed to both Jews and Muslims since the Second Intifada broke out on September 28, 2000. After Ariel Sharon’s visit, the site was closed to both Jews and Muslims for a number of days, and it was years before Jews could access the site again.
Right-wing politicians were quick to condemn the shooting.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party demanded that Netanyahu return “Israeli sovereignty to Jerusalem.”
“Security is delivered through actions, not talk. An attack in the heart of Jerusalem is a red line,” he said.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), a proponent of a Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, said that the bullets fired at Glick “were aimed at all Jews who wish to pray on the Temple Mount.”
MK Miri Regev (Likud), who was also at the conference Wednesday night, said the writing was on the wall.
“The attempted murder of Yehudah Glick is an escalation of events in Jerusalem. As long as the Israeli government fails to act against terror, against incitement and against the Islamic Movement, terrorism will lift its head not just in Jerusalem, but across the country,” Regev wrote on Facebook.
But left-wing activists worried that right-wingers would try to exploit the shooting for their own gain in order to try to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. Since the Israeli government annexed the area in 1967, the status quo held that Muslims can pray on the site but Jews cannot. Jewish visitors also cannot bring prayerbooks or other religious artifacts.
Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at the left-wing group Ir Amim who monitors Temple Mount developments, said Temple Mount activism groups have become less marginalized in the past two years within the wider religious community. “It used to be that religious groups pretty much dismissed them, and many believed that Jews shouldn’t even go there [due to prohibitions of treading on the area of the Holy of Holies, which is forbidden according to Jewish law],” Tatarsky said.
“In past years, these groups have moved away from the language of terrorism and fanaticism. They don’t use the language of ‘we’re going to blow up the Dome of the Rock’ any more. And something that was very much on the fringe became a very hot subject in national religious community,” he said. Tatarsky said further that the fact that MKs, including Feiglin and Regev, attended the conference at the Begin Center where Glick was shot illustrated the mainstream acceptance.
Tatarsky, invited by Glick to address Wednesday’s conference, made brief remarks about the responsibility these activist organizations wield at such a contested site. He said that while he doubted he changed anyone’s mind at the conference, many participants came up to him afterwards and thanked him for his remarks. That was before a masked man on a motorcycle shot Glick in the chest and stomach.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Tatarsky worried that both Jewish and Muslim extremists would harness the anger in the capital for their own political gains.
“Violence only pushes people to be more stubborn about what they believe,” Tatarsky said. “Feiglin and Bennett and the right — their responses were just more of the same. At a certain point, they’re using the fact that Glick was shot to push their agenda forward,” he said. “The right has a strategy to use the situation to change the facts on the ground.”
But Feiglin, who goes to the Temple Mount at the beginning of every Hebrew month, said he doubted the status quo would change dramatically.
“I do not think the current policy will change. I don’t think there will be any movement in a new direction,” Feiglin said. The only thing that is different, Feiglin said, is the current closing of the Temple Mount to everyone, something he could not remember having happened in past years. When there are clashes or tense political situations, police close the Temple Mount to non-Muslim visitors, or they restrict access to Muslims over a certain age. But a blanket closure for everyone is a rare move.
“Closing the Temple Mount to both Jews and Muslims is definitely something new, though we could see some Muslims walking around there,” Feiglin said. He added that he planned to return to the Temple Mount the first day it is reopened to Jewish visitors.
Glick, an American immigrant to Israel, is currently head of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, and he worked in the past as the executive director of the Temple Institute, an organization that prepares vessels and garments for a future Jewish temple.
In his work with the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, he has endeavored to raise Jewish consciousness about the centrality of the Temple Mount to Jewish tradition, and to encourage Jews to go up to the Temple Mount “according to halacha [Jewish law].”
The shooting raised already heightened tensions in the capital, which has seen near daily rock throwing incidents in Arab neighborhoods and a large police crackdown on the unrest.
Lazar Berman and the Times of Israel staff contributed to this story.