Jewish and Arab ministers and lawmakers are barred from visiting the Temple Mount, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed police, sparking anger among right-wing and Arab lawmakers on Thursday.
The law granting lawmakers immunity states that “no instruction banning or limiting access to any place in the country, that is not private property, may apply to MKs, unless it is for reasons of state security or a military secret.”
MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) on Thursday afternoon tested the ban issued late the previous night, saying he is “protecting the [Aksa] Mosque from crazy people.”
Police blocked him from entering the Temple Mount.
Arguing with the officers, Zahalka said, “Who is Netanyahu in this context? There is no rule that says the prime minister can bar MKs from entering a holy place.”
Zahalka, who professes to be secular, said that Muslims’ “right to enter al-Aksa is natural and obvious. We are here to protect its holiness.
Ministers and MKs from the Right come here, with police protection, to harm al-Aksa’s holiness.” He added that “the prime minister cannot just issue an order to violate people’s freedom of movement.”
The lawmaker said he is considering petitioning the High Court of Justice against Netanyahu’s decision.
MK Ahmad Tibi, head of the Joint List’s Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee, said the prime minister was “adding fuel to the fire” and that he and other legislators plan to visit the Temple Mount on Sunday morning.
“Neither Netanyahu nor the Right can prevent us from entering our al-Aksa Mosque. Whoever decided first to prevent provocateurs on the Right, like [Agriculture Minister] Uri Ariel... [of Bayit Yehudi, from ascending the Mount in order] to cool the atmosphere, is now making a U-turn and deciding to escalate the situation. This is a crazy, illegal decision.... To put Arab and Muslim MKs in the same category as Ariel and [Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi] Hotovely [of the Likud] is like saying a homeowner and the burglar who stole from him are the same,” Tibi said.
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said that Netanyahu is spineless.
“The Aksa plaza is occupied territory that, according to the status quo, is managed by the king of Jordan and the Muslim Wakf [trust], and Netanyahu has no legal or moral authority to ban Arab MKs from going to the mosque,” he said.
“Netanyahu continues to be dragged after the settlers’ leadership in the coalition and is dragging all of us into the abyss.”
According to Odeh, whoever is concerned about security should not be “managing the conflict” and must work on negotiations toward a peace settlement that would “end the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state.”
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) said Netanyahu finally realized the provocations from members of his coalition have to be stopped, but that having the ban apply to Arab lawmakers as well is absurd.
On Thursday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) called on Odeh to prevent his MKs from visiting the Temple Mount, out of concern for human life, and said Netanyahu should have banned lawmakers from visiting the site months ago.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said if Arab legislators visit the Mount on Friday, they should be arrested.
Hotovely, however, was opposed to the prime minister’s decision.
“I think it’s a mistake.... As an elected official, I call for as many citizens as possible to ascend the Temple Mount,” she told Army Radio. “Netanyahu talks about maintaining the status quo, and the status quo is that anyone who wants to, may go up to the Mount.”
Still, Hotovely added that she understands the prime minister’s considerations, which are that “he wants to show the world he’s trying to bring calm.”
Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) quipped that he’s “concerned that the next step is for the prime minister to expand his instruction to ban MKs from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.”
“The instruction must be canceled immediately,” he said.
At the same time, legislators across the political spectrum supported Netanyahu’s decision.
MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) defended the instruction, saying that “there is no doubt the Temple Mount is ours and will be ours when the Temple is rebuilt, but we must act with great humility and reverence.... This is a big issue, and it is our responsibility not to fuel the fires of hatred and incitement.”
Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen of Shas expressed satisfaction that “crazy and stupid people” can no longer ascend the Mount, saying that Temple Mount activists are in a coalition with Hamas and “because of them we will lose Jerusalem... and the whole country and everything.”
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said that Netanyahu’s decision was the right and responsible thing to do, and that he will support it from the opposition. Lapid said if legislators in the prime minister’s own Likud party oppose the move, it was more important for Yesh Atid to support it.
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said Netanyahu promised Jordan a year ago to bar lawmakers from visiting the Temple Mount and that it was wrong of him to only implement the decision now. Herzog said that the premier’s edict banning MKs from the Mount should have been issued “months ago” so as to “remove extremists from the Temple Mount and stop politicians from going up there.”
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said that “for a change, the warmongering ministers and MKs, who are willing to earn political capital at the price of human life, will have to show restraint.”
Gal-On added that she believes in freedom of worship and that Jews have the right to pray on the Temple Mount, but when there is a wave of terrorism and police say politicians’ visits to the site are damaging, it’s the time “to be smart and not right.”