MKs on the Right and Left called for action against MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) Thursday, after he said Jews must be kept off the Temple Mount “in any way possible” and seemingly called to intensify the violence of recent months.
Zahalka, in an interview for the Palestinian website Dunya al-Watan, called on Palestinians to enlist in efforts to stop what he said was a daily increase in Jewish visitors to the holy site.
“We sacrificed 4,000 martyrs for the Aksa Mosque in the second intifada, and the continued ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount caused the outbreak of the current intifada,” he said.
“Our people have the right to the mosque, and we must protect it with all of our power. The Palestinian nation is the guardian of the mosque.”
Zahalka made what could be understood as a call for more organized, wide-spread Palestinian violence, saying: “The question is whether organizations will join the national struggle and operate on behalf of the entire homeland, or will they leave the struggle in the hands of youth who carry out lone terrorist attacks.”
After his interview reached the Israeli press, Zahalka clarified that he was “criticizing the leadership and Palestinian organizations that are not leading grassroots resistance against the occupation and are leaving the field open to isolated actions by youth. There is anger in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank and the leadership must direct it toward an effective struggle with a palpable political influence.”
Zahalka said his call for a more effective struggle is part of his “public responsibility to warn against a dangerous deterioration as a result of right-wing people entering Al-Aksa, like what happened after [thenprime ministerial candidate Ariel] Sharon visited in 2000, which brought the outbreak of the second intifada and the deaths of over 4,000 people.”
Senior Palestinian officials, as well as then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s wife and advisers, have said, however, that the second intifada was planned in advance.
“We must do everything possible to prevent more bloodshed,” Zahalka continued, saying that in order to do so Israel must prevent “provocative visits” to the Mount.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prohibited all MKs from visiting the site last year, and the only ones to defy him since then have been members of the Joint List.
Zahalka is one of three Joint List MKs who are in the Balad party. The Knesset Ethics Committee suspended him and the other lawmakers, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas, for varying amounts of time from all Knesset activities except voting, after they visited in Jerusalem with families of dead Palestinian terrorists and stood in a moment of silence for the “martyrs.”
Lawmakers from the Left and Right expressed outrage at Zahalka’s statement, questioning whether his two-month suspension was a serious enough punishment.
“First he incites, then he gets a ridiculous punishment... and now he’s inciting again,” MK Nava Boker (Likud) lamented.
“Maybe the Ethics Committee and police should understand that we’re dealing with a person who wants to see Jewish blood spilling like water ahead of Passover.”
Boker called to remove Zahalka’s parliamentary immunity and for there to be a criminal investigation against him.
MK Itzik Shmuly (Zionist Union) said Zahalka’s “advice to continue the intifada in the West Bank and Jerusalem does not leave any doubt about his interests.
“An MK who encourages incitement and violence and does PR for dangerous actions against the state is someone who cannot be ignored. This must be put to an end, once and for all,” he said.
Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said “Zahalka should realize what country he lives in and who is the sovereign, and we, in the spirit of [Passover], should remember that we came here in order to stay forever.”
Likud MK Amir Ohana called Zahalka an “ultranationalist and racist,” saying that “he has no problem taking away Jews’ freedom of worship... Just replace the word ‘Jews’ with ‘Arabs’ and you’ll find that Zahalka is king of the hypocrites.”
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) suggested that Zahalka leave the Temple Mount alone if he wants to avoid bloodshed.
“The time has come for MK Zahalka to lay off the Temple Mount. It’s a holy place. Instead of instigating, he should try to bring calm. Politicians must not use the Temple Mount as a tool,” he said.
Ahead of Passover, which begins next Friday evening, Israel has reassured Jordan and the Palestinian Authority that it is committed to upholding the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Israeli spokespeople are relaying a similar message in the Arab media and on Arabic social media sites, and it has been made clear that – with the exception of government ministers and both Jewish and Arab Mks – there are currently no limitations on access to the Temple Mount.
The messages come amid concern in Jerusalem that, as has happened frequently in the past, Jewish visits to the site on the Jewish festivals will trigger Palestinian violence. Palestinian leaders in recent days have stepped up warnings against “provocations” by Jews visiting the Temple Mount.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting of security officials last week to discuss the issue.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.