Politicians responded with outrage and bitter disappointment Tuesday morning after being denied entry – along with hundreds of rank and file Jews and Christians – to the Temple Mount on Tisha Be’av, the sacred annual day of mourning, due to police concerns over Muslim rioting.
Admittance to the Temple Mount, administered by the Wakf Muslim religious trust in conjunction with the Jerusalem Police, has long been a contentious issue among Jews and Arabs.
However, the confluence of Ramadan and Tisha Be’av only inflamed the situation as thousands of Arabs were granted entry to pray at the nearby Dome of the Rock.
Following the incident, a barrage of condemnations by a number of senior government officials – as well as a law suit filed by an NGO – were swiftly issued regarding the police decision.
Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Muallem, who was with Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud Beytenu) when the incident occurred, used her Facebook page to protest the decision and called for an immediate Knesset inquiry over the rights of Jews to enter the contested site.
“On this day, the pilgrimage to the Temple Mount was doubly significant due to the connection to the Temple and the will of Jews to continue the connection between them and the holiest place from a position of building and construction, and not destruction,” she wrote. “We reached the place to spread love and to connect hearts, and unfortunately and sadly, it was decided to prevent the entire crowd to go up the mountain.”
Muallem added that she and Elkin addressed their concerns to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to initiate a formal discussion about the restrictive state of affairs.
“I’m hopeful that the relevant authorities will understand soon that you cannot disconnect any Jew from the Temple Mount, especially on such a special and significant day as Tisha Be’av,” she continued. “It’s incomprehensible that on a day when the government and police need to expand the pilgrimage hours to the Temple Mount – a day when the sovereignty of the State of Israel over the Temple Mount needs to be strengthened – the exact opposite was done.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Tuesday afternoon that the decision by police to bar Jews from entering the site was a preemptive measure enforced after a security assessment determined there was an imminent threat to their safety.
“We made security assessments in the morning in Jerusalem,” Rosenfeld explained, “and in order to prevent any incidents on the Temple Mount, the area was closed to visitors until further security assessments were made.”
Deputy Minister of Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) also took to Facebook to condemn Tuesday’s decision, and implored the government to change the policy determining when Jews can enter the site.
“How, in the State of Israel, which represents the principles of equality and freedom of religion, can Jews be forbidden from entering the Temple Mount – the holiest place – for fear of rioting by Muslims?” he wrote. “It’s time to change this reality. Stop using various pretexts of security and the inability of the police to protect Jewish citizens.”
Dahan, who conceded that the Temple Mount presented a “complex” situation, added that he would endeavor to change the current regulations, no matter how problematic.
“There will be many difficulties, but eternity is not afraid of a long path,” he wrote. “A situation where equality and freedom of religion is held only when talking about other religions – and not the Jewish majority in Israel – is absurd.”
Chaim Richman, International Director of the Temple Insitute called the decision to prohibit Jews from entering the Temple Mount a “reward to Islamic terror.”
“Despite the bitter disappointment and utter disgrace of the police’s absurd decision – itself a reward to Islamic terror – to prevent Jews from ascending to the Temple Mount [on Tisha Be’av], the hundreds of Jews who arrived this morning at the entrance are testimony to the great awakening taking place within the people of Israel toward the importance of the holy site to our nation,” Richman said in a statement shortly following the incident.
“The sight of so many Jewish men, women and children coming from all over the country at great personal cost, and converging on the holy mountain, is the clearest indication that the plight of the beleaguered Temple Mount is becoming an important aspect of the national consensus,” he added.
The Joint Staff of the Temple Har Habayit, an umbrella group representing a coalition of 23 organizations, issued not only a scathing statement about the controversy, but also a lawsuit against the police department on behalf of all the people denied entry.
Joint Staff chairman Aviad Visoly, who filed the law suit, said he repeatedly had been assured by Border Police Chief Superintendent Avi Biton before Tisha Be’av that the Temple Mount would be open to Jews.
“This failure of the Israeli police is particularly acute in light of the many recent warnings we gave police commanders responsible for the Temple Mount,” Visoly wrote. “It should be noted that just yesterday we checked repeatedly with... Biton and he promised that the Temple Mount would be open to Jews on Tisha Be’av.
Due to the “pain and suffering” resulting from the forced closure, Visoly, an attorney, said he was petitioning the court to demand that every Jew denied entry be compensated NIS 5,000.
“As a result of the closure of the Temple Mount to Jews today, severe damage was caused to hundreds of Jews,” he wrote. “This includes both monetary damages (including costs of preparation, travel, loss of work days, etc.) and pain and suffering and the loss of autonomy, because they were denied entry to the holiest place on earth on the anniversary of its destruction.”
Visoly also demanded that police issue a formal response, including a detailed explanation as to why the site was restricted, to be submitted no later than July 22.