Reports: Siding with Ben Gvir, PM plans to limit Arab Israeli Al-Aqsa access on Ramadan

Netanyahu said to overrule position of some security officials, who warn move could unnecessarily antagonize Muslims during holiday; Opposition MKs react angrily to restrictions

Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers attend the last Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, April 14, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90/File)
Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers attend the last Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, April 14, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90/File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sided on Sunday with far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, endorsing restrictions on Arab Israelis’ access to Al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount during Ramadan, according to multiple reports.

Channels 12, 13, Haaretz, and other outlets reported that the decision diverged from the recommendations of parts of the security establishment.

A governmental source told Channel 12 news that the decision was not final, and was still being considered.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office later pushed back at the reports with a vague statement that said the premier “made a balanced decision that allows freedom of religion with necessary security limits, which have been set by professional officials.”

“Any other report is incorrect,” the statement added, without elaborating on what decision was made and what restrictions will be put in place.

The Temple Mount, often a point of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians, is considered the holiest place in Judaism, as the location of two biblical Temples, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Mount is the third-holiest site in Islam, turning the area into a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ramadan is seen as a particularly sensitive time during which tensions often flare and clashes develop between police and worshipers.

Israeli security forces guard near Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, during the holy month of Ramadan April 5, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90/File)

According to the reports, Netanyahu has instructed security officials at a Sunday cabinet meeting to present ministers with options for age criteria and quotas for Israeli citizens who wish to pray at the Al-Aqsa compound during Ramadan.

The reports said the Shin Bet security agency opposed Ben Gvir’s position in favor of limitations, saying no curbs should be placed on Arab Israelis. The police, however, reportedly favored the move.

Ben Gvir seeks to only allow worshipers over the age of 70 onto the Temple Mount, Ynet news said. According to Channel 12, the criteria will likely end up allowing men over 60 and children up to the age of 10 to enter the complex. The precise number is expected to be decided according to police recommendations, Haaretz reported.

According to Haaretz, the Shin Bet believes allowing even a small amount of worshipers into the complex will aid in the prevention of clashes with police. The organization noted that Hamas did not by chance name their October 7 massacre “The Al-Aqsa Flood,” and warned that unnecessarily antagonizing the Muslim population in Israel and the West Bank during the sensitive period of Ramadan should be avoided.

Palestinian Hamas supporters chant slogans and flash gestures with flags of the terror group outside the Dome of the Rock shrine at the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem during Ramadan on April 7, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

A decision has yet to be made regarding Ben Gvir’s demand that no Palestinians from the West Bank be permitted to enter. The Shin Bet’s position reportedly calls for allowing Palestinian men over 60 and women over 50 who have undergone Shin Bet background checks to be allowed in.

The reports indicated the prime minister shot down Ben Gvir’s demand to have security forces enter the complex to intervene if worshipers raise Palestinian flags or signs praising terror.

Although Ramadan is not expected to affect the ongoing fighting in Gaza, the possibility of importing aid into the Strip that would allow Gazans to celebrate the holiday was discussed at the meeting, Haaretz reported.

Opposition lawmakers reacted angrily to the reports of the restrictions.

MK Mansour Abbas, chairman of the Ra’am party, said those who “plan to harm the freedom of worship at Al-Aqsa are trying to set the Middle East on fire, change the status quo in Jerusalem, and drag us into a dangerous religious war.” He called on Netanyahu to “avoid any harm to our right to pray freely at Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

MK Ahmed Tibi, chairman of the Hadash-Ta’al party said the decision was a “blatant violation of freedom of worship.” and accused Netanyahu of being “held captive” by Ben Gvir.

A member of the lead opposition party, MK Merav Ben-Ari of Yesh Atid, echoed the sentiment, saying Netanyahu was “controlled by Ben Gvir, in every decision, in everything. Every decision, from the return of the abductees to the ascent to the Temple Mount.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, greets National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Ben-Ari said Ben Gvir was in charge, and “not the security professionals and not even the police who are responsible for the Temple Mount will decide, only the minister to the national failure…He is not interested in the fact that the entire Middle East could burn as a result of the decisions, that it could cost human lives,” she said, adding that the government only cared about its political survival.

MK Gilad Kariv of the Labor party, also in the opposition, accused Netanyahu of “endangering the security of the citizens of Israel by courting [Meir] Kahane’s people, and is once again putting political interests above the recommendations of the security echelon.”

War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz confirmed on X that there would be certain restrictions on entry the Temple Mount for security reasons, but said that the specifics had yet to be decided.

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