Two US congressmen briefly picked up and held an olive branch on the Temple Mount on Thursday morning, only to find themselves under suspicion by police.
Republican Reps. Scott Tipton and David B. McKinley had been on a tour of the Temple Mount led by Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute, so they could better understand what it is like for religious Jews who go to the site. The site is holy to all three Abrahamic religions. While non-Muslims are allowed to visit, only Muslims can pray there.A video shot by tour-group member Avi Abelow and posted on his Facebook page showed the tour being accompanied by both police and a guard from the Wakf Islamic trust, which controls the site.The police and the guard pushed the group along when they slowed down and asked them not to pause to take photos.Tipton told The Jerusalem Post that McKinley, in a moment that did not seem significant at the time, picked up an olive branch and showed it to him. McKinley then put it back on the ground.When they walked off the area of the Temple Mount, on their way to a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, police officers asked them to step aside and leave the group.“They told us we were being detained,” Tipton said. “They wanted to know what we had in our pockets.”Members of the group could be seen on video trying to explain to the police that these were US congressmen and that they were on their way to meet with the prime minister. They urged the police to release the men.In a video shot by Abelow and posted on the website IsraelUnwired, McKinley said he believes Jewish visitors had a similarly problematic experience when they visited.“They detained us because they did not think we should have something from the holiest of sites,” McKinley said.On the video, he pondered: “Does the prime minister have any voice on prayer and the speed at which you are moved through? Because this is not my first time on the Temple Mount. I felt that this time more than ever we were pressured; we were pushed along in a very hurried fashion. It is important for us as Christians and Jews in the world to be able to experience more of the Temple Mount.”The “irony” that it was an olive branch that got them into trouble was not lost on them, Tipton said.He told the Post he raised the issue with Netanyahu, who he said “expressed dismay” at the incident.The congressmen are in Israel as part of a weeklong fact-finding mission and are being hosted by Proclaiming Justice to the Nations and Jaffe Strategies.“They were not detained or arrested,” the police spokesman for the foreign press said, adding: “The two congressmen and their wives visited the Temple Mount this morning after visiting the Old City yesterday. Police escorted them during the visit.Toward the end of the visit, police asked them if they had removed anything from the site. The issue was quickly clarified, and the congressman continued their visit according to plan.”Ariane Mandell contributed to this report.
The video of the congressmen getting questioned by police on the Temple Mount.