Israel Police Chief Yohanan Danino said Wednesday that he would prevent Knesset members from accessing the Temple Mount. He also refused to apologize for his remarks Tuesday chiding parliamentarians who have visited the contested site and criticizing Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for allowing them to do so.
Danino “feels it is his duty to repeat and clarify that this behavior [going to the Temple Mount] — even by MKs — can endanger public safety and security and he does not intend to allow it,” a police spokesman said Wednesday.
The police chief singled out MKs whose visits to the site have been accompanied by posts on social media and statements to the press. He said these lawmakers’ intentions were to “provoke and make remarks about changing the law on the Temple Mount [that allows Jewish visitors but bars them from praying there], which is exploited by [Muslim] extremists as a sign of a changing status quo.”
Earlier Wednesday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein wrote a letter to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch complaining about Danino’s remarks.
“These [statements] are grave and inappropriate coming from a police commissioner about elected public officials. It’s unacceptable that a public servant — as senior as the position may be — would question the freedom of movement of Knesset members,” Edelstein wrote in the letter, according to the Israeli news site NRG.
Edelstein asked Aharonovitch to order Danino to refrain from such comments in the future and to respect Knesset members’ status. The Knesset speaker went to to say that the current surge of violence and terror attacks in Jerusalem are caused by the incitement in the Palestinian public sphere, and the Temple Mount issue is a fig leaf for the violence.
On Tuesday, at the Sderot Conference for Society, Danino blasted Knesset members who called for an alteration to the current arrangement under which non-Muslim worshipers can visit, but not pray at, the holy site. He maintained that there no efforts to change the status quo.
“I forbade [Likud MK] Feiglin from going to the Temple Mount until I lost the backing of the attorney general. It is a mistake to allow entry to those who are a symbol of changing the status quo,” Danino said.
Danino’s comments came after weeks of riots and terror attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere, touched off in part by Palestinian fears — denied by Israel — that Israeli lawmakers would seek to change the status quo on the compound, called the Haram al-Sharif or al-Aqsa by Muslims.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on several occasions that Israel had no intention of changing the status quo at the site.
Despite his apparent critique of the attorney general, the police commissioner later said that he did not intend to criticize Weinstein.
Danino railed against the right-wing “agenda” to change the Temple Mount status quo, which, despite lacking teeth, has raised tensions.
“We recognized, mostly after the elections, that members of the radical right took the Temple Mount and made it an agenda. We cautioned and said that we need to leave the Temple Mount alone — the Knesset members don’t understand what they are igniting.
“Obviously all the calls to change the status quo law has no practical efforts [standing behind them], but the statements themselves are doing something in the Muslim world,” he added.
The police commissioner emphasized that the government position since 1967, under which police detain non-Muslims seen praying, will not be altered.
Responding to the police chief’s remarks, Likud MK Feiglin, a regular visitor to the sensitive site, defended his right to enter the Temple Mount and charged that the police chief had failed to contain the violence in the capital.
“Danino failed to protect Jerusalem and ensure the security of the citizens, and is now trying to find a scapegoat and excuses for his failure,” the Likud MK wrote on his Facebook page.
“I go up to pray on the Temple Mount, in accordance with the law, every month for the past 15 years. This is the legal, moral, national, and religious right of every Jew. I urge Danino to focus on the security of Jerusalem’s residents and Israeli citizens and to spend less time at panels and conferences in an effort to cast off his responsibility,” Feiglin added.
The site — the holiest in Judaism, and the third-holiest in Islam — has been a source of increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, which have led to a number of violent clashes, Palestinian acts of terrorism, and the attempted assassination of a Temple Mount activist in just under a month.
Since the attempted assassination on October 30 of activist Yehudah Glick, who agitated for Jewish prayer on the site, at least three right-wing politicians — Likud MKs Feiglin and Tzipi Hotovely and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the Jewish Home party — have visited the site, claiming it as their democratic right and denouncing the double standard for Jewish and Muslim worshipers.
Under the terms of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the Temple Mount remains under Jordanian custodianship through the Waqf authorities, who maintain administrative charge of the holy site.