Two Jewish Knesset members visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tuesday for the first time since October 2015, when the government barred MKs from going there as part of an attempt to reduce tensions amid a wave of terror attacks against Israelis that was linked to the flashpoint site.
Likud’s Yehudah Glick and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, of the Jewish Home party, visited the compound, which was recently the focus of a major crisis between Israeli authorities and local Muslims over contentious security measures taken at the entrances to the compound. Metal detectors and cameras were installed following a deadly attack in which three Arab Israelis emerged from the site and shot dead two Israeli police officers using weapons that had been smuggled onto the Temple Mount. The upgraded security measures were all ultimately removed.
Following discussions with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the prime minister decided in early July that the ban on MKs going to the Temple Mount would be lifted for a period of seven days to assess any fallout from the move — though on Tuesday, the trial period seemed to have been reduced to a single day.
The site, Judaism’s most holy as the site of the biblical Temples, remains otherwise off-limits to government ministers. The government and police have said they will assess allowing lawmakers to visit the site on a regular basis in the future.
MK + Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick tours Al Aqsa compound after ban on lawmakers visiting he fought against lifted. (Via Rami Khateeb) pic.twitter.com/CELvsvnHE8
— Kaamil Ahmed (@KaamilAhmed) August 29, 2017
Glick and Moalem-Refaeli walked around the site with a small group of people, accompanied by Israeli security officials. The visit took place without incident.
Several members of the left-wing group Peace Now protested outside the entrance to the Temple Mount, accusing the lawmakers of provocation.
Glick rejected the charges, saying that Jews who visit the Temple Mount are not the ones responsible for terror attacks.
“I have a very peculiar worldview,” he said dryly, “according to which the person who is responsible for a terror attack is the one who carried it out. And the one who incites to murder is guilty. I am convinced that whoever visits the Temple Mount adds peace to the world, and whoever promotes incitement and hatred is guilty.”
Under a decades-old agreement enforced by Israel, only Muslims are allowed to pray inside the compound, which is known to Arabs as Haram al-Sharif and which contains the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
As she walked on the Temple Mount, Moalem-Refaeli told those with her that they should dedicate their actions to the memory of Haiel Sitawe, 30, and Kamil Shnaan, 22, the two Israeli police officers killed on July 14 by three Arab Israeli gunmen while guarding the site.
Glick’s wife, Yaffa, suffered a stroke on June 26 and remains in a coma. He told reporters that he had her in mind during the visit and that despite the ban, he had prayed.
“The Temple Mount is the source of my life,” he said. “I visited with the prayer that I should be worthy. I prayed for myself, for my family, for my children and for my wife, along with a prayer for peace in the world.”
Glick also said he prayed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be cleared in the multiple police investigations into him, and for an end to war around the globe.
“I prayed that God would strengthen our prime minister and give him the strength to do his job, and that he would come out innocent and will continue to succeed in uniting the entire nation. I asked for peace in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen — that no nation should raise a sword against another.”
In 2014, a Palestinian terrorist attempted to assassinate Glick because of his Temple Mount activism. The shooter told Glick, right before pulling the trigger, that he was “an enemy of al-Aqsa.”
Police allowed Jewish lawmakers to visit the site in the morning, though Glick and Moalem-Refaeli were the only two to do so. Arab lawmakers were permitted to visit in the afternoon, though they denounced the scheme and said didn’t need the prime minister’s permission to enter the site.
MK Ahmad Tibi, of the Joint (Arab) List, decried the visits of the Jewish MKs, calling them a “provocation.”
“MKs from the Joint List will not come today to the Al-Aqsa Mosque with the provocation and conditions of Netanyahu and the Israel Police,” he said. “Arab MKs will come whenever they want and not when Netanyahu wants. This is how it was in the past and this is how it will be in the future.”
He added that the right-wing Jewish lawmakers were seeking to change the status quo on the site.
“The Arab MKs come to their home, to their mosque,” he said. “But the right-wing extremist MKs storm the mosque with the protection of the Israeli government and police, and they are the same ones who want to change the status quo to allow them to pray in the courtyard of the mosque.
“The world can see who is inciting,” Tibi added, “who sneaks in like a thief in the night, and who acts properly and responsibly as the owner of the site of the mosque.”
At a press conference after the Jewish lawmakers visited the site, Tibi compared Glick’s message of peace to an engineer saying he is doing a “good deed” as he enters an Arab village to bulldoze homes.
Glick “stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque with a message of peace,” said Tibi. “He calls for turning the site into what he calls the ‘third Temple,’ in a message of peace. Any more ‘peace’ like this and we’ll be lost.”