Temple Mount closed to Jews for final days of Ramadan despite Ben Gvir’s efforts

Activists denounce PM, police and the far-right national security minister, who had sought to keep holy site open to non-Muslims during last 10 days of Muslim holy month

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount, May 18, 2023. (Courtesy Beyadenu)
Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount, May 18, 2023. (Courtesy Beyadenu)

Police have informed Temple Mount activists that, as in previous years, visits to the Jerusalem holy site will be banned for Jews and other non-Muslims during the last days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Last month far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, an ardent proponent of Jewish visitation rights on the Temple Mount, sought to allow Jews to visit the site during the last 10 days of Ramadan, but his efforts appeared to have been stymied by the prime minister.

Senior cabinet officials were said to have opposed Ben Gvir’s demands due to the extremely tense security situation in Jerusalem owing to the current war in Gaza and concerns of unrest among the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

While non-Muslim visits to the site are permitted during the first 20 days of the Muslim month of fasting, they are usually banned completely during the last 10 days since that is when Laylat al-Qadr falls — the holiest night of the year in Islam, which is considered to be particularly sensitive in terms of security concerns.

Temple Mount activists said that the police closed the site to non-Muslims on Sunday and that it is expected to be closed until April 14, although that date is not yet final.

Ramadan ends this year on April 9 but the police usually keep the Temple Mount closed for the three days of the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday following the holy month.

Thousands of Muslim worshipers attend Friday prayers during Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, March 29, 2024. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

A spokesperson for Ben Gvir, who as national security minister has authority over the police force, which determines arrangements on a daily basis at the site, declined to comment on the ban.

Although Ben Gvir’s ministry controls the police and has heavy influence over Temple Mount arrangements, broader policy over the site is ultimately in the hands of the prime minister, who will often make decisions on the basis of recommendations from the National Security Council.

The Temple Mount Administration organization, which provides assistance and various services to Temple Mount visitors, said it thanked “all the political and security authorities for their many and dedicated actions to enable Jewish visitation until now, throughout the war, despite the multiple threats” and gave special thanks to Ben Gvir, “who does so much for the Temple Mount.”

Tom Nissani of the Temple Mount activist group Beyadenu strongly criticized the decision, however, noting that “there is not one day in the year on which the Temple Mount is closed to Arabs.”

Continued Nissani: “Instead of enforcing security for [Jewish] visitors, the Israel Police, the prime minister and the minister in charge prefer to capitulate in the face of threats and close the Temple Mount for an unbelievable 16 days. It is clear that this capitulation will invite displays of incitement and hatred and encourage terrorism; a total disgrace.”

Before the start of Ramadan, Ben Gvir had sought to restrict the numbers of Muslim worshipers at the site during the holy month, including for Arab Israelis, but was ultimately overruled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on that issue as well.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, where two biblical Temples once stood, while Al-Aqsa Mosque there is the third-holiest shrine in Islam, making the site a central flashpoint of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

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