MKs squabble over Jewish access to Temple Mount

Knesset committee meeting adjourns early; Arab MK warns ‘blood will flow’ if status quo changed

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

MK Jamal Zahalka is removed from the Knesset plenum after making repeated catcalls during a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, May 14, 2015 (Knesset spokesperson)
MK Jamal Zahalka is removed from the Knesset plenum after making repeated catcalls during a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, May 14, 2015 (Knesset spokesperson)

A Knesset committee convened Tuesday to discussed a possible increase of the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount quickly deteriorated into a shouting match as MKs hurled insults at each other.

Ten minutes into a meeting of the Knesset’s Interior and Environment Protection committees, as lawmakers reviewed an initiative calling for changing the Temple Mount status quo, Balad MK Jamal Zahalka yelled at Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal, calling him a fascist.

“If I’m a fascist, then you’re a terrorist,” Magal shot back at the Israeli Arab MK.

Zahalka warned the assembled MKs that “blood will flow” if the current agreement — in which Israeli security forces restrict Jewish prayer and occasionally access to the site in an attempt to keep a shaky peace at the holy site — is changed. The meeting soon disbanded.

Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal seen after a meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the president's house in Jerusalem on March 22, 2015, (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal, March 22, 2015 (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Tensions over the Temple Mount simmered last year after reports of Jewish attempts to change the status quo at the site led to widespread unrest in Arab parts of the capital and a string of terror attacks against Jewish Israelis.

A number of MKs and right-wing groups, many of whom wish to see a third Jewish temple built on the site, have chafed against the restrictions and agitated for a change in policy.

Magal underscored the need to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount and called for the dismantling of the Muslim guard stationed on the site to block entry by Jews.

In a number of cases, the guards, or “Mourabitoun,” an Arabic term for those protecting Islamic holy sites from desecration, have been involved in recent clashes with Israeli security forces or Jewish worshipers.

“The Mourabitoun are responsible for provoking Jewish worshipers, and have broken the terms of status quo. The police need to enforce order on the site and remove the guards immediately,” Magal continued.

Micky Zohar (Likud) told the committee that while he respected the holiness of the site to Muslims, it was discriminatory for Israel to uphold the practice of not allowing Jews to pray there.

“Its inconceivable that in Israel, under a Jewish government, that we aren’t allowed to express our faith even minimally. This is an attack on religious freedom — how would the world react if we would deny Muslims their religious rights?”

Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick, who was the target of an attempted assassination in November of last year over his controversial Temple Mount stance, said that the Temple Mount was used to propagate incitement and physical violence to intimidate Israel.

“It gives them free reign to control the sovereignty and democracy in Israel,” Glick said.

Linda Olmert's HALIBA colleague Rabbi Yehudah Glick (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Rabbi Yehudah Glick (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The Temple Mount has been a source of increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, which have led to a number of violent clashes and Palestinian acts of terrorism in the last year

The tumult later subsided amid a heavy police crackdown, and after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed several times that Israel did not intend to change the status quo at the holy site.

Jews believe the site once held the two Temples, and it is the holiest site in Judaism. It is today home to a Muslim shrine and mosque and is considered the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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