Top ultra-Orthodox MK to Netanyahu: Keep the Temple Mount closed to Jews

Holiest site in Judaism has been closed to Jewish visitors since May 10, when riots by Palestinian worshipers at compound led Hamas to set off 11-day conflict

Israeli security forces fire tear gas to disperse Palestinians at Jerusalem's Temple Mount compound on Jerusalem Day, May 10, 2021. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
Israeli security forces fire tear gas to disperse Palestinians at Jerusalem's Temple Mount compound on Jerusalem Day, May 10, 2021. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party on Saturday night urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to reopen the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors, amid simmering tensions at the Jerusalem holy site.

“Not ascending to the Temple Mount is the deepest proof of our belonging to this holy place to which we direct our prayers,” said UTJ chairman Moshe Gafni, a close ally of the prime minister. “I ask you to keep the Temple Mount closed to Jews!”

Many Haredim believe Jews — who under the existing arrangements are usually allowed to visit the Temple Mount but are banned from praying there — should not enter the site due to its holiness.

Jews have been barred from visiting the Temple Mount — the holiest place in Judaism as the site of the Biblical temples, and site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam — since Jerusalem Day on May 10, when authorities made the decision to shutter the compound to non-Muslims amid spiraling tensions in the city.

A view into the Temple Mount compound amid clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, May 10, 2021 (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

Major clashes broke out at the site between police and Palestinian rioters later that day, leaving hundreds wounded.

Later that same day, the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group threatened to fire rockets at Israel if it did not withdraw police from the Temple Mount and the nearby East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Hamas then launched projectiles at the capital and other parts of the country and set off 11 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza terror groups that ended early Friday with a ceasefire.

Gafni’s comments could spark disagreement within Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc of supporters, which includes the premier’s Likud party, ultra-Orthodox Shas, UTJ and far-right Religious Zionism.

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, said Thursday that Netanyahu “can forget about forming a government” if the ceasefire with Hamas contains anything related to Jerusalem. Religious Zionism members were also critical of the initial decision to close the Temple Mount.

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben-Gvir on Saturday night condemned Gafni’s call and urged the government to allow Jewish visitors into the compound from Sunday morning.

“The [Temple] Mount must be open to Jews by tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. Closing the [Temple] Mount [to Jews] is a capitulation to Hamas,” he said.

Israeli politicians have said the ceasefire was unconditional, with “calm in exchange for calm.” Hamas said that it demanded Israeli concessions at the Temple Mount in exchange for the truce.

United Torah Judaism party leader Moshe Gafni after a faction meeting at the Knesset on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Friday saw Palestinians again clash with police on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, mere hours after a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect. It was not immediately clear how the confrontation erupted. According to Israeli police, officers acted to contain a riot by Palestinian worshipers at the scene.

Renewed clashes also broke out Saturday between police and dozens of protesters in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood that has been a key flashpoint over the pending eviction of several Palestinian families from homes claimed by Jews. The Palestinians live in houses built on land that Israeli courts have ruled were owned by Jewish religious associations before the establishment of Israel in 1948. The Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the Palestinian families’ appeal.

The Sheikh Jarrah eviction was cited by the Palestinians as a central reason for the major unrest in Jerusalem earlier this month that ended up sparking the conflict with Israel in Gaza, after violent protests spread to the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque and Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem.

A Palestinian man last week rammed his car into police officers in Sheikh Jarrah, injuring seven Israeli police officers.

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