Temple Mount closed after Jews and Muslims clash

Fight breaks out after Muslim worshippers take exception to Jewish visitors singing Hanukkah tunes; 4 arrested

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Illustrative photo of Israeli police on the Temple Mount. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli police on the Temple Mount. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

The Temple Mount was closed to Jews Sunday after a fight between Jews and Muslim worshippers broke out on the plaza.

According to police, the scuffle began after Muslims took exception to a group of Jews at the site singing Hanukkah songs, Israel Radio reported.

Two Jews and two Muslims were arrested.

A video was posted online Sunday reportedly showing the clash. In it, a group of at least two Jewish men are seen walking, with one of them singing the Jewish holiday Hallel prayer, as angry men and women confront their police escort.

The sensitive Temple Mount area, holy to both Muslims and Jews, is controlled by the Muslim Waqf, but security is overseen by Israel. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit, but all non-Muslim religious ritual is banned.

Israeli police and Waqf guards keep close tabs on visitors identifiable as religious Jews. If any are seen moving their lips in prayer, or prostrating themselves on the smooth stones of the shrine, they are expelled and sometimes detained.

The site, currently home to the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine, is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples.

Israeli police have the right to veto any visits and in practice prevent both Jewish prayer and high-profile Jewish visits.

In October, 10 Jewish men were detained by police after they were accused of praying and bowing inside the Temple Mount enclosure.

The group reportedly said prayers, sang the Israeli national anthem “Hatikva,” unfurled an Israeli flag and began dancing.

In September, there were several clashes between police and Palestinian youths on the mount and security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds.

Tensions were raised by an influx of Jewish visitors to the site during the Sukkot holiday. As a result, at the end of September, Jerusalem police closed the Temple Mount to non-Muslim visitors, citing security concerns — a surprise announcement that caused many holiday pilgrims and tourists to be turned away at the site.

Jewish prayer and visits at the Temple Mount enclosure are seen as a provocation by many Arab worshippers, but the practice has support among right-wing Knesset members, notably Likud MKs Miri Regev and Moshe Feiglin, the latter of whom has made prayer visits to the site.

In May, Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely marked her last day as an unmarried woman with a visit to the Temple Mount and earlier that month Regev chaired a Knesset committee meeting to review Jewish prayer on the mount.

Regev has spearheaded a campaign to uphold Jewish prayer on the controversial site, despite the explosive security and political implications.

In November, Jordan’s special adviser for the Islamic and Christian holy places said that Jordan strongly opposed Israeli requests to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, a senior Jordanian minister said Tuesday.

Earlier in the month, right-wing and Arab MKs traded insults during a discussion of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount at a meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, with lawmakers accusing one another of stoking the flames of violence. Eventually, the Arab MKs stormed out of the meeting in protest.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report. 

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