Extraordinary scenes unfolded in the Knesset Committee for the Interior on
Monday afternoon, when Arab MKs objecting to Jewish visitation rights at the
Temple Mount wildly and ferociously denounced Bayit Yehudi and Likud lawmakers
before storming out of the hearing.
Committee chairwoman Miri Regev
(Likud) called the session to discuss the continued problems Jewish visitors
experience on the Temple Mount.
In addition, Deputy Religious Services
Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) announced during the hearing he was
seeking to reach an agreement with the Chief Rabbinate, which is opposed to
Jewish visitation at the site, for approved and agreed procedures for Jews
wishing to pray there.
The Chief Rabbinate has historically prohibited
Jews from visiting the Temple Mount due to the concern that someone may walk
into an area of the compound that should not be entered unless certain rituals
have been performed.
Increasing numbers of devout Orthodox Jews, largely
from the conservative wing of the national-religious movement, now visit the
site, however, citing the opinions of senior rabbis who argue it is possible to
visit the Temple Mount while avoiding the prohibited areas.
But MKs Ahmed
Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and other Arab lawmakers
present at the hearing reacted furiously to the notion of standardizing
procedures for less restricted Jewish access to the Temple Mount and shouted
warnings of dire consequences, including a new intifada, should such proposals
Tibi was ejected from the hearing but reappeared a short
time later only to continue shouting, along with several other Arab MKs as they
stormed out of the hearing.
“There is no Temple Mount,” shouted Zahalka.
“There is only the Aksa Mosque, I don’t see a Temple Mount, it’s something
virtual” he shouted, and continued to call out “al-Aksa” every time anyone in
the hearing said the words “Temple Mount.”
Zahalka accused the Bayit
Yehudi lawmakers present, along with Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, an ardent supporter
of Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount, of being
“You’re playing with fire and you’re starting an inferno,”
he yelled. “I’m not threatening anything, I’m just saying what will
Hadash MK Muhammad Barakei averred that “anyone who wants to
desecrate al-Aksa [Mosque] will find us there, not here.”
Tibi said that
the second intifada had broken out “because of al-Aksa, and because of you it
[another intifada] will break out again, also because of al-Aksa.”
accused Regev of being “irresponsible and dangerous, to yourself, to your
children, and also to the public.”
Once the Arab MKs had left, the debate
continued with Shas MKs David Azoulai and Yitzhak Cohen criticizing Ben-Dahan
and the other Bayit Yehudi MKs for promoting Jewish visitation to the site, on
the grounds that senior rabbis have ruled against it.
Azoulai argued that
the issue was being advanced in the committee, as opposed to formulating
legislation, because the proponents of such activities know that legislation
would cause a far greater uproar and be less likely to succeed.
responded, saying that renowned rabbi Moses Maimonides visited the Temple Mount
when he was in the region in the 12th century and that rulings by rabbis in the
years since the site came back under Israeli control were made only to prevent
people from entering areas prohibited by Jewish law, and not because going to
the Temple Mount was intrinsically forbidden.
Regev insisted that access
to holy sites for members of all faiths should be upheld.
She added that
a strong complaint would be lodged with the Knesset Ethics Committee against the
behavior of the Arab MKs who disrupted the hearing.
Jewish visits to the
Temple Mount are tightly restricted by the police and the Jordanian Wakf Islamic
trust which administers the site.
Ben-Dahan said that he had spoken with
the Chief Rabbinate on the issue of Jewish visitation and that he “hoped that it
will accept the reality that [some] rabbis are telling individuals that they are
permitted to go to the Temple Mount.”
He added that the Religious
Services Ministry was preparing a proposal which will define when and how Jewish
prayer will be permitted in the compound.
The deputy minister said it is
the chief rabbis who define Halacha for the public, and that he hoped it would
be possible to draw up proposals that the Chief Rabbinate would agree
Jewish and other non-Muslim visitors are only permitted to enter
the compound during certain hours of the day and never on Fridays.
addition, the police and officials of the Islamic trust prohibit Jews and non-
Muslims from praying on the Temple Mount.
The increasing numbers of
Jewish Israelis visiting the site has led to heightened tensions, and Jewish
visitors have complained that they face greater police obstruction and
restrictions in their efforts to go to the Temple Mount.