Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on lawmakers to behave responsibly, after MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) ascended the Temple Mount on Wednesday, in defiance of the prime minister’s orders.
“The Temple Mount has been quiet for two weeks and we are making every effort to keep it quiet, but that bothers some people,” Netanyahu said. “I can assure you that Ghattas did not go up to pray, he went up just to provoke and inflame the atmosphere.”
Netanyahu said he will “not let any MK, on either side, light the Temple Mount on fire.”
Ghattas said that he was able to enter the compound “smoothly and naturally,” and that he visited all of its areas, despite Netanyahu’s instruction to police earlier this month to keep MKs from the site.
Joint List MK Basel Ghattas ascends Temple Mount despite Netanyahu's ban
Security camera footage from the Temple Mount shows that a police officer recognized him, but when Ghattas said Netanyahu does not have the authority to bar him from the site, the officer let him in.
“Visiting al-Aksa is my basic and elementary right,” Ghattas, who is Christian, said. “We completely reject Netanyahu’s decision to prevent us from entering al-Aksa.
The occupation regime does not give Netanyahu and his government authority over al-Aksa Mosque or over the occupied territories in general.”
People of all religions are allowed to visit the Temple Mount, but only Muslims are permitted to pray there, according to the rules of the Jordanian Wakf Islamic trust, which manages the site.
These rules are enforced by police.
Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to maintaining these rules and to installing security cameras on the Mount on Saturday night, following a discussion with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian King Abdullah.
Ghattas claimed that he documented Orthodox Jews praying and singing on the Mount while police stood by. His spokesman did not respond to requests to view the documentation.
A police spokesman said the police “implement government decisions regarding the Temple Mount and do all they can to ensure that visitors and worshipers on the Temple Mount will maintain the holiness of the place, and act respectably and responsibly in the holy and sensitive public space.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called in the plenum for MKs not to ascend the Temple Mount in response to Ghattas’ actions.
“Enough, enough, enough! We don’t have to wait until there is bloodshed. One can be an MK without being a pyromaniac,” Edelstein said.
Later, Edelstein sent a letter to MKs, writing that while he usually defends MKs’ parliamentary immunity, he has an unusual request.
“According to security officials, MKs ascending the Temple Mount at this time can deteriorate the security situation, which is already sensitive, and could cause significant, violent confrontations, directly and seriously harming the state and the public’s security,” Edelstein wrote. “I think that in this situation, we all must show responsibility and contribute in any way we can to the personal security of all citizens of the state, even at the price of personal restraint and giving up exercising the right to ascend the Temple Mount.”
As such, Edelstein asked MKs not to ascend the Temple Mount until told otherwise, “so that, God forbid, we do not contribute to bloodshed and the security situation combusting.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) said that “MKs who sneak on to the Temple Mount are contemptible... This is incitement that can lead to the murder of innocent people.
“There is a status quo that worked well for years,” Erdan added. “Maybe it is not the optimal situation, but it works. Muslims pray, and Jews and other people can visit.”
Erdan said that public officials should not be permanently banned from the Temple Mount, but the order should remain in place until the current wave of terrorism ends.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said that Ghattas was trying to fuel the flames of terrorism at a sensitive time.
“It is very problematic that the prime minister is not maintaining his decision to prohibit politicians from ascending the Temple Mount,” he said.
According to Herzog, Ghattas and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who said on Monday that she dreams of seeing the Israeli flag wave over the Temple Mount, and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi), who called on the government to exercise sovereignty on the Mount, are “endangering Israel’s security and the prime minister is just standing by.
“Israel needs a leader today, not a weak prime minister,” Herzog said.
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) said that “mixing politics and religion is dangerous and destructive, and we must do everything we can to prevent it. It doesn’t matter what political side you are on, it doesn’t matter what your name is. Anyone who is trying to score political points on the backs of holy places is not doing his job as a public servant.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman quipped that “The British press will probably say an Israeli MK incited on the Temple Mount.”
The Knesset discussed a motion to the agenda by Ghattas on Wednesday, regarding his opposition to installing video cameras on the Temple Mount.