Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Monday approved a decision to prevent Likud MK Moshe Feiglin from visiting the Temple Mount, for fear that visits to the volatile holy site could spark violence and endanger Israel’s security, the Justice Ministry announced Monday.
“The Attorney General approved the decision based on the recommendations of law enforcement agencies,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement. “The decision was based on past experience, including Feiglin’s previous actions while visiting the site and his announcement that he would not coordinate future visits with the police. Police and defense authorities estimate that MK Feiglin’s ascent to the Temple Mount may potentially risk Israel’s security.”
Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu was behind the decision, which he based on intelligence assessments that the MK’s visit could escalate tension at the site, Army Radio reported. Netanyahu addressed the issue in the Likud faction meeting Monday, saying, “We are in a delicate and volatile situation. There are defense establishment instructions and we must avoid escalation.”
A visit to the Temple Mount by then-prime ministerial candidate Ariel Sharon in 2000 is widely considered one of the sparks that led to the Second Intifada.
Feiglin, a first-time MK from the Likud party’s hawkish flank, has been prohibited from visiting the Temple Mount in the past, most recently a month ago. Feiglin attempted to enter the Dome of the Rock, but was turned back by security personnel at the site, who said it was closed to non-Muslims. A large crowd gathered during the incident, and Feiglin had to be extricated by police.
“The prime minister has no legal authority to give such an order,” Feiglin argued. “It is an order that undermines the Knesset’s sovereignty. It directly contravenes at least three basic laws. The security argument doesn’t work either because, between now and my visit, the security forces have all the time in the world to prepare and to prevent violent gatherings.”
Few places on earth are as potentially explosive as the site, where two Jewish temples once stood. Muslims believe the Mount is where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and call it the Noble Sanctuary. The day-to-day functioning of the site is in the hands of the Islamic Waqf, and Israeli governments have been stringent about maintaining the status quo. Because of its importance to Muslims and the inherent tension of such a place being under the control of Israel, any violence there resonates across the Islamic world and has the potential for deadly results.
At the moment, Israeli police and Waqf guards keep close tabs on visitors identifiable as religious Jews. If someone is seen moving lips in prayer, or prostrates themselves on the smooth stones of the shrine, they are expelled and detained.
Matti Friedman contributed to this report