Temple Mount to be shut to Jews at Ramadan’s end, despite Ben Gvir dissent – report

Far-right national security minister said to fume at annual arrangement, which he has condemned in the past as capitulation to terror

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, left, pray as as Israeli police officers guard the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem's Old City on April 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, left, pray as as Israeli police officers guard the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem's Old City on April 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite combative rhetoric from firebrands in the government, Israel, as in previous years, is set to bar Jews from entering the Temple Mount holy site during the last 10 days of the Muslim month of Ramadan, according to a report Sunday.

The Kan public broadcaster cited a stormy meeting held over the weekend regarding the Israeli policy, which has prohibited non-Muslims from entering the flashpoint Jerusalem location during the culmination of Ramadan, when Muslims traditionally sleep at the site that they revere as the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, or the Noble Sanctuary.

With the current government widely viewed as the most right-wing in Israeli history, the report said the measure is facing staunch opposition from far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, a longtime proponent of changing the current status quo under which Jews are not allowed to pray at the Temple Mount and face numerous other restrictions on entry.

Ben Gvir reportedly argued during the meeting that the previous big-tent government “closed the Temple Mount for fewer days than what you want” — nine versus 10. He also made clear he believes the site, the holiest place in Judaism, should not be off-limits to Jews at all.

Last year, Ben Gvir and his far-right running mate Bezalel Smotrich — now the finance minister — slammed the government’s move as a “surrender to terror.”

Nonetheless, the ban on Jewish entry during the last 10 days of Ramadan seems set to be applied this year too, the report said.

The Muslim holy month has traditionally seen violence spike, in particular around the Temple Mound, where the situation has been especially volatile of late. The Mount is the holiest site for Jews, as the location of two biblical Temples, while the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Mount is the third holiest shrine in Islam, turning the area into a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Under an arrangement that has prevailed for decades, Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted to visit the Temple Mount during certain hours but may not pray there. In recent years, Jewish religious nationalists, including members of the new governing coalition, have increasingly visited the site and demanded equal prayer rights for Jews there, infuriating the Palestinians and Muslims around the world.

In January, Ben Gvir paid a visit to the Temple Mount — his first since taking office in the new government — leading to furious condemnations from the Arab world. Jordan summoned Israel’s ambassador for a dressing down.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023. (Courtesy, Minhelet Har Habayit)

Later in the month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman and discussed maintaining calm on the Temple Mount. According to media reports, Netanyahu promised Abdullah that the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem would be preserved.

Further fueling tensions is Ben Gvir’s ongoing crackdown in East Jerusalem, which he ordered in response to recent terror attacks.

Last week, Channel 13 reported that Shin Bet security service chief Ronen Bar had spoken to Ben Gvir and warnied him that the enforcement operations could provoke further violence.

Security sources told the channel that they see a spike in violence as a foregone conclusion, given that efforts to calm tensions in the capital have failed and noting the approach of Ramadan.

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