A group of activists dedicated to bringing Jews to the Temple Mount told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that they were hoping to see hundreds of participants take part in a planned "mass pilgrimage" to the site scheduled for Thursday morning in honor of Hannuka, which celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple after it was recovered from Hellenist Greeks more than 2,000 years ago.
The pilgrimage, which will include guided tours of the area throughout the morning, will also be a litmus test for the shaky calm that has prevailed in Jerusalem's Old City since October, when rumors of a "Jewish takeover" of the mount sparked fierce clashes between Arab rioters and security forces in and around the sensitive holy site and in various neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.
The rumors were fueled in part by calls at the time, from a number of Knesset members and prominent national-religious rabbis, that Jews ascend to the Temple Mount with increased vigor. Those calls were portrayed, in turn, by Palestinian clerics as nefarious plans to invade the site or build a synagogue there.
The mount, which was the location of both the First and Second Jewish Temples from 960 BCE until 70 AD, is also home to the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa Mosque, which is considered the third-holiest shrine in Islam.
Nonetheless, a representative of the Organization for the Renewal of the Temple (ORT) - which is organizing Thursday's event - told the Post on Tuesday there had been no indication the planned pilgrimage would cause renewed disturbances, even though tensions around the site are always high, and Tuesday was no exception.
Members of the group who had gone up to the mount on Tuesday were reportedly accosted by a group of Arabs as they exited the site and headed into the Old City's Muslim Quarter.
Yosef Rabin, an ORT member, told the Post that the scuffle broke out after a number of Arabs standing nearby became enraged when his colleagues started to sing Hannuka songs and dance as they departed.
"And that was completely legal," Rabin said. "We were no longer on the mount itself, and the police officers who were with us said it was okay to begin singing."
Police were quick to break up the fighting, Rabin added, but detained two of the group's members. A police spokesman contacted on Tuesday evening was unable to immediately verify Rabin's account.
Nevertheless, Rabin said, the trip had been calm and quiet up until the fighting broke out, and he added that his group was pursuing its goal of promoting awareness of the mount "through legal means only."
"We do everything legally and in conjunction with the police," Rabin said. "And as long as we do, there shouldn't be any problem."
Rabin also said that the violence seen in October had been mostly instigated by the leader of the Islamic Movement's northern branch, Sheikh Raed Salah, who has been markedly less vocal since the riots and his subsequent arrest and temporary banishment from the Old City.
"Even the Wakf (the Islamic authority that holds custodianship over the mount) was against Salah's provocations," Rabin said. "They didn't say it out loud, but it was reported that the Wakf was privately pleased with his arrest. They don't want problems like that, but there are instigators from other parts of the country who do."
Still, Rabin said he had personally spoken with police about Thursday's pilgrimage and that they had told him there was no reason to believe problems would occur.
"Our focus is on bringing people to the Temple Mount, nothing else," Rabin said. "And we've been making hundreds of phone calls, using lists we have, and sending out e-mails and Facebook messages to try and get as many people as possible to come."
"Little by little, we're going to take back the mount," he continued. "And it will be done without violence or force."
In a related development, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Monday issued a restraining order against Hatem Abdel Kader, a senior Fatah official and advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for Jerusalem affairs, which prohibits him from entering the Temple Mount for six months.
Kader was released on bail after being arrested
over the weekend for violating a previous restraining order, when he entered the Temple Mount to attend prayers there.
The senior Fatah official was banned from the mount for three weeks in October, after being arrested on suspicion of incitement during the riots that were taking place at the time.