Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Wednesday declared as “unlawful organizations” two Islamic Movement groups who harass Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, rendering membership or financing of the groups illegal.
The move came in response to an appeal by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan last month, following an increase in verbal and physical violence by activists from the Murabitun and Murabitat groups, composed of men and women respectively, against religious Jews visiting the holiest site in Jewish tradition, where the first and second Temples once stood.
The groups were set up by the more extreme northern branch of the Islamic Movement, and, according to Israel’s Haaretz daily, the organization provides regular transport to the Mount from Arab communities in central Israel, the Galilee and the Negev.
“The activity of Murabitun and Murabitat is a central cause of tension and violence on Temple Mount specifically and in Jerusalem more generally,” said a statement issued Wednesday by Ya’alon’s office. “It is inflammatory and dangerous activity against tourists, visitors and worshipers at the site, leading to violence and potentially causing loss of life.”
Ya’alon’s decision was facilitated by an emergency law that allowed the British government in the mandate era to crack down on Jewish paramilitary organizations in the years leading up to Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.
Yehudah Glick, an activist for Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, expressed his satisfaction Wednesday at a decision he said he had been advocating for three years.
“Thank God, better late than never,” Glick told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “I have appealed to the police since this whole thing began in 2012. It took a while, but the state made the right decision.”
Glick accused Israeli authorities of remaining silent on increasingly harsh anti-Israeli incitement by the Islamic groups, which he said set the stage for an attempt on his life in October last year. Glick was shot four times at point-blank range by an assailant who was later killed by police.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, former mufti of Jerusalem, called the decision “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane.”
“This is an assault on al-Aqsa, because these women defend al-Aqsa,” the Muslim cleric told The Times of Israel in a phone interview Wednesday. “It shows that the Jews covet al-Aqsa mosque and want to drive all Muslims out of it.”
Sabri dubbed the decision “a dangerous precedent that takes place nowhere but in the occupation state of Israel.”
But despite his declared satisfaction, Glick was perplexed by a passage in Ya’alon’s statement asserting that “the State of Israel grants freedom of worship [on Temple Mount] to all of its citizens and to tourists visiting it, regardless of religion, and views that as a central value.”
Prior to entering Temple Mount, Jewish Israeli visitors to the site are grouped together and separated by police from other tourists; subjected to a full body search meant to verify they are not carrying prayer books; and warned not to pray on the Mount or otherwise display religious devotion.
“I really don’t know what [Ya’alon] meant by this,” Glick said. “The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled numerous time that freedom of worship should be granted on Temple Mount, contingent upon public order. The police continuously decides that Jewish prayer disrupts public order.”
The Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for clarification at time of publication.