Police closed the Temple Mount on Sunday, after two Muslims attacked two Jewish visitors who had been praying at the holy site.
A video uploaded on the internet purports to capture the fight, which began after the Jewish men, accompanied by a police escort, sang the Hallel prayer and a number of Arabs promptly confronted them. Two men from the group then assaulted the Jewish visitors, resulting in the arrest of all four, police said.
The issue of limited Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount, under the control of the Wakf Muslim religious trust, continues to fuel debate between Arabs and Jews politically and socially.
Last month, a Knesset Interior Committee meeting to discuss the continued restrictions Jewish visitors face on the Temple Mount degenerated into a shouting match, with Arab politicians threatening a third intifada.
“You’re playing with fire and you’re starting an inferno!” MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) shouted during the discussion.
“I’m not threatening anything – I’m just saying what will happen,” he added before storming off.
After the Knesset debate, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalu (Meretz) – who briefly ran for mayor last month before withdrawing his name – said the problem resides with Jewish provocateurs, who go to the site solely to incite conflict.
“I think we need to accept the division,” he said. “All the Jews go to the Temple Mount only to create provocations.”
Alalu hinted that the problem would not be resolved unless Israel recognizes a Palestinian state.
“If you recognize a Palestinian state, we can change some things,” he said, without directly referencing the Temple Mount impasse. “But we must do this together.” Further complicating an already inflamed situation are pronounced divisions among rabbinical leaders regarding the right to Jewish prayer there.
While some rabbis outlaw ascent to the Temple Mount in absolute terms on pain of spiritual excommunication, others insist that Jewish prayer at the site is an acceptable deviation from Torah law.
It is a widely held that Jews are forbidden from going to the site of the Temple because of ritual impurity caused by contact with the dead. The religious establishment, principally the Chief Rabbinate, actively reinforces this notion.
On two occasions within an eight-week period last year, the powerful Jewish religious governing body issued a notice reiterating the stance of chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger – as well as the revered late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – that according to Jewish law it is unequivocally forbidden to visit the Temple Mount.
However, at last month’s Knesset meeting, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) announced he was seeking to reach an agreement with the Chief Rabbinate to allow Jews to pray there.
In the meantime, it appears little common ground has been gained concerning the issue.
“This [problem] is not going to be fixed until Jews are allowed to pray there as freely as Muslims,” said a woman who identified herself only as Rachel. “There is no room for further debate.”