The heart of our daughter was stabbed and killed, and this is the heart of the Jewish nation,” said Rina Ariel, mother of slain teen Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, at a rally attended by hundreds of supporters near the entrance to the Temple Mount Tuesday morning.
“We have to empower it. We need help to strengthen it, and to strengthen the whole nation.”
Amid chants of “Am Yisrael chai!” waving Israeli flags and heated speeches from a veritable who’s who of Temple Mount activists, the supporters of Hallel – who was stabbed to death at her Kiryat Arba home by a Palestinian terrorist on June 30 – demanded equal rights for Jews on the Temple Mount.
“Look, it’s something that is sad, but it’s also something that gives us power to know that there is some destiny and something we can do – not only cry and sit flat on the floor – but to build something that’s adding something new to this whole environment in Israel,” Ariel added.
“It’s not easy speaking about the Temple Mount, but we want people to discuss it with us; to learn the topic.”
Standing near a Hebrew banner stating “We are all Ariel’s family. They took her away from us, so we’re going to double our forces to build Jerusalem,” Oren Hazan, the youngest MK from Likud, said the status quo restricting Jewish visitation to Judaism’s holiest site is not acceptable.
“I think it’s about time that Jews should be able to go up to the Temple Mount every day, around the clock,” he said.
“This is the heart of the Jewish people, so look at it this way: If you took any place in the world and said Jews cannot pray here or walk here, that’s anti-Semitism.
So this is anti-Semitism.”
Benzi Gopstein, head of the Jewish extremist group Lehava, went much further.
“This is a Jewish place – it is the place of the Holy Temple – and the only people who need to be here are the Jewish people,” said Gopstein, who has been investigated by police on multiple occasions for hate crimes against Palestinians.
“It’s not a place for anyone else. So it’s not a question of ‘when’ we should be able to visit; we should be able to visit every day and every hour, and we wait for all of Am Yisrael to come here.”
Asked to comment on the rights of Muslims to continue visiting al-Aksa Mosque without restriction, Gopstein said they should pray elsewhere.
“They can go to Mecca, to Medina – they have a lot of places to go,” he said. “We just have one place, and this is our place.”
Yehudah Glick – who joined Likud as an MK in May after recovering from being shot four times in 2014 by a terrorist in Jerusalem for his Temple Mount activism – held back tears as he spoke of Hallel’s murder.
“Of course it breaks my heart,” Glick said. “Every time I think of [her parents], I get tears in my eyes – I just imagine Hallel lying in her bed, and this monster entering the house through the window and murdering her.
Stabbing her again and again and again.”
Glick added that her murder should strengthen Jewish resolve to freely visit the Temple Mount, where Muslim’s are granted unlimited access 24-hours a day, seven days a week. In sharp contrast, visitation by Jews is restricted to a few hours a day, and any form of Jewish prayer on the compound can result in detention or arrest for “disturbing the public order.”
During the final 10 days of Ramadan, non-Muslim visitation was suspended after several Jewish groups were attacked by masked Muslims, who stored weapons, including rocks and metal pipes, in al-Aksa Mosque, where police are forbidden from entering.
“It’s an abnormal situation that Jews are not allowed to enter the Temple Mount freely,” Glick continued.
“It’s an abnormal situation that people who are here peacefully are not protected by the police, but have to protect themselves. It’s a sad situation, but how to confront these challenges that God gives us is our choice, and I’m happy that we chose a peaceful path and not a path of fighting. We chose a path of adding light... not using physical power, but the strength of the light and the strength of the people of Israel’s connection to the Temple Mount.”
During the rally, family members and close friends of Ariel were permitted to ascend the contested holy site, while hundreds of primarily orthodox Jews waited in the hot sun for police to allow them to enter.
“The most appropriate thing we can do after a terrible terrorist attack is to connect to the holiest place for the Jewish people,” said Yaakov Hayman, Chairman of the Organization for the Re-establishment of the Temple.
Jerusalem resident Malka Fleisher said she came to the demonstration to enter the compound, and to support the Ariel family while demanding equal rights.
“I’m a Jewish person like them, and I came here today because I wanted to show support for the Ariel family,” said Fleisher.
“I also came to express my strong desire that Jewish people be given rights on the Temple Mount. I think that the fact that Jewish people don’t have equal rights on the Temple Mount creates an imbalance which fuels terrorism.”
Shortly before 11 a.m., when the mount closes to non-Muslim visitors, one Christian and one Jewish group was allowed to enter through Mughrabi Bridge.
The Christian tourists walked peacefully through the compound without a police escort, snapping pictures, and for a moment the atmosphere remained quiet and calm near al-Aksa Mosque. Middle-aged Muslim men holding large Korans sat in plastic chairs in the shade, while others arranged prayer rugs on the stone floor.
As soon as the Jewish group arrived, the feeling of tranquility gave way to one of open hostility, as loud, menacing chants of “Allahu Akbar” were directed toward them by several Muslim women, some of whom waved their shoes at them.
According to an imam handing out pamphlets on Islam near the mosque, most Muslims believe that Jewish extremists intend to destroy al-Aksa and rebuild a third temple. Indeed, that false narrative is what has fueled what many are deeming a third intifada.
“We don’t have a problem with most Jews, just the radicals who say, and post on Facebook: ‘We want to destroy al-Aksa Mosque and build a Third Temple,’” he said.
“Why do they need to make a provocation? This is not fair. It is not all Jews; many are good people. It is the radical Jews who want to destroy the mosque that makes the problems.”
Rushed by their heavily armed police detail, the Jewish group was restricted from straying too far from the path to the exit a couple hundred meters away, and was allowed to only spend little more than 15 minutes on the site, while the Christian group was left to wander uninterrupted.
“It’s the best we can do,” said one Jewish man, who had a friend take his picture with the location of the First and Second Temples in the background, where the Dome of the Rock now stands.
Although some of the more radical Jewish activists at the rally outside the Temple Mount had called for those who entered to “pray loudly in Hebrew,” many of the Jews who passed through the compound said they were not seeking to provoke others.
“It’s very clear whether a person comes to harass others with his prayers, or just comes to modestly pray to God,” said Avraham Goldstein, after exiting the compound into the Muslim Quarter. “Most of us are coming to express our wishes and desires to God, and that shouldn’t be disrespectful to anyone.”
“We are just asking to freely come here – to walk, look and leave – and even this is denied to us,” he continued. “It was a very painful experience. Every person should equally be able to come to this holy place.”
Still, Anat Ben Nun, Peace Now’s director of development and external relations, said that Ariel’s murder, while tragic, should be considered mutually exclusive to the Temple Mount controversy.
“I think that the two cannot be connected,” she said by phone after the rally. “One person’s terrible tragedy must not be used in order to increase tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. I think that the Temple Mount area is a highly sensitive one, and any change in the status quo there can ignite Jerusalem, and the region.”
Ben Nun continued: “I share the sorrow for the death of Hallel, but I think we must be very careful and not [conflate] the two issues.”
Moreover, she asserted that changing the status quo, as well as increasing settlement construction in the West Bank, should not be viewed as an effective response to terrorism.
“This is definitely not the answer to terrorism,” said Ben Nun. “It can only ignite hate and strengthen extremists on both sides. It will not prevent the next victim, or additional attacks.”
Asked to respond to the right-wing contention that not demanding equal rights on the Temple Mount, or continuing settlement construction following attacks, is a form of capitulation to terror, Ben Nun responded that it is in the country’s “interest” not to pursue either path.
“It’s an Israeli interest to not continue construction [or change the status quo], in order to remain a Jewish and democratic state,” she said. “For me, this has nothing to do with a response, or lack of response, to terrorism. It’s something that should be stopped regardless of the terrorist attacks.”
While Ben Nun said she strongly disagrees with the Palestinians’ violent resistance, she asserted that it will only worsen if the “occupation” continues.
“There’s a reason for the violent resistance,” she said. “And so perpetuating the occupation and expanding it certainly is not going to help bridge any kind of resolution.”