MK Itamar Ben-Gvir (Otzma Yehudit) and some 2,200 other Israelis visited the Temple Mount on Sunday as part of Tisha Be’av, amid concerns that the visits may lead to an escalation of Operation Breaking Dawn and force Hamas to join the fighting, which it has refrained to do until now.
Tisha Be’av is a Jewish fast day which commemorates disasters that occurred throughout Jewish history, mainly the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem.
“I am here, we are the owners, Israel is the owner of the Temple Mount. It is time that we prove it to them, we must crush the Islamic Jihad. This is a very important opportunity,” Ben-Gvir said as he was circling the Temple Mount compound.
Ben-Gvir received murder threats over the weekend on his cellphone and Facebook. During his visit to the mount, Arab protesters yelled “Allah Akbar” (God is great) and “slaughter the Jews,” to which Ben-Gvir responded, “Am Yisrael Chai” (the nation of Israel is alive), according to a statement by Otzma Yehudit.
“The threats will not scare me and I will not submit to them. The police should catch the perpetrators and arrest them immediately. This morning I will go up to the Temple Mount and remind everyone that we are the owners of the holiest place for the people of Israel,” he said in response to the threats.
The Otzma Yehudit chairman’s visit was coordinated with Knesset officers and Israel Police a week ago, Ben-Gvir said in a statement on Saturday.
“We cannot give in to the terror. We are the rightful owners of the State of Israel and as long as we act like it, our enemies will get the message,” the MK said.
The visits were allowed after Prime Minister Yair Lapid held a special situation assessment on Saturday night, in which he decided the fighting against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad did not warrant canceling the Jewish ascent to the Temple Mount.
Hamas stated in response that it “rejects the Israeli occupation’s permission for extremist Zionists to storm Al-Aqsa mosque tomorrow. We hold the Israeli occupation fully responsible for the repercussions of this violation committed amid the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip.”
The terror group also called on Palestinians and Muslims worldwide to “defend Al-Aqsa Mosque and face Israeli violations at the holy compound.”
Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev held a situation assessment in the Old City as the visits were underway on Sunday, along with top police and Shin Bet officials.
“It is natural to allow Jews in the State of Israel to visit the Temple Mount in an orderly way and according to the rules. We will not be deterred even when terror organizations try to threaten us and prevent us from doing so,” Bar Lev said.
Following the visit to the Temple Mount, Ben Gvir headed to the Western Wall plaza and was welcomed by cries of support and by accusations of violating a rabbinical prohibition to visit the site.
In response to a query by The Jerusalem Post whether his visit would cause a security deterioration that could lead to Israeli casualties, Ben-Gvir said, “The parents of kids in the South say to me, ‘Itamar, continue,’ because if you stop the message to our enemies is that they can bomb our children. The children in the South are not suffering because of Itamar Ben-Gvir, they are suffering because of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, haters of Israel. Do not become confused. In ‘48 the enemy began a war not because of Itamar Ben-Gvir, and in ‘67 not because of Itamar Ben-Gvir, and I have news for you: Today, also, they do not only want to kill me – they also want to kill you.”
A number of left-wing and Arab MKs condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit to the site.
“Ben-Gvir’s public relations tour around the Temple Mount on Tisha Be’av, while the commanders and soldiers of the IDF are leading the operation, proves that the extremists are only interested in themselves,” Labor MK Gliad Kariv wrote on Twitter. “Not sovereignty, not national security and not the needs of citizens in the Gaza border area and across Israel. The extremists led to the destruction of the Temple; they must not be allowed to endanger the third Temple,” Kariv wrote.
Outgoing Meretz chairman and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz wrote on Twitter: “Entering the Temple Mount during the fighting in the South, is a wanton act. Ben-Gvir and the rest of the pyromaniacs are making a transparent provocation in order to bring about a large deterioration and the police – in a mistaken decision – are allowing them to, despite the clear and certain security danger. This should be stopped immediately,” he wrote.
Ra’am MK Walid Taha wrote, “Despicable behavior aimed at stoking the fire, inflaming the spirits and dancing on the blood! It is very unfortunate that a government and an entire country are held captive by a group of bloodthirsty and war-mongering extremist fanatics, who are entering Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in a despicable provocative move.
“The State of Israel must respect the agreements with the Hashemite Kingdom regarding the Aqsa Mosque complex and the holy places in Jerusalem and prevent inciters such as Ben-Gvir from threatening stability,” Taha wrote.
The tension in the streets of the Old City was palpable.
Arabic-language TV crews, reporters, Temple Mount activists and Palestinian protesters gathered at a spot near the Chain Gate, where the Jewish visitors exited the site. Jewish teens hurled curses and insults at the Arab reporters and protesters, including “Death to the Arabs”. The protesters responded with cries of “Allahu Akhbar”.
Violence broke out at the spot a number of times after police officers attempted to distance especially provocative chanters from both sides. Many of those present were teens.
A Jewish teenage girl repeatedly screamed at the Arab journalists that they did not belong there and that Israel belonged to the Jewish people. An Arab woman in a black niqab (garment that covers the entire face save for the eyes) screamed in response that the land had always belonged to the Arabs.
At another spot, Jewish teens recited Tisha Be’av kinnot (dirges) while Arab youth tried to drown them out with their own religious chants.
At least two cases of police violence toward journalists were recorded. The first occurred on the Temple Mount itself. Video clips on Twitter show photographer Ahmed Gerbli of AFP being shoved aside by military police to make way for Ben-Gvir. He was arrested and released half an hour later, Haaretz reported.
The second occurred at the Chain Gate. Video clips show Border Police officers tackling a journalist and then carrying him away. The journalist was Muhammad Aso of the Lebanese Al Mayadeen network, according to Haaretz.
Haaretz reported the Israel Police’s response to both incidents:
Regarding Gerbli the police said: “The police officers arrested and distanced visitors who violated the rules of the visit. In one case a photojournalist on the Temple Mount did not listen to the police officers’ directives while there were others around him who were disturbing the peace, and therefore he was taken away from the site and released soon after.”
Regarding Aso, the police said: “In another incident that occurred this morning, a physical altercation broke out between two people who were present – one of whom was a journalist. Both were arrested by police officers who stopped the violence and took them in for investigation, which is ongoing. It is unfortunate that a photojournalist chose to become actively involved in a violent altercation instead of reporting on the incidents. We will continue to allow media coverage of the area, but will not allow violence of any sort, by a photographer, journalist or anyone else.”
Jewish Temple Mount activists also complained about excessive police violence.
In a video on Twitter shared by Religious Zionist candidate and Temple Mount activist Arnon Segal, Border Police officers are seen telling a man who is filming them on his cellphone to leave the area, and then forcefully arresting him. The man in the video was identified by Segal as Kahanist Meir Ettinger.
“Vicious police violence against Meir Ettinger. The only reason: [Ettinger] demanded [that the] police officer identify. Until when will we accept this trampling?”, Segal wrote on Twitter.
“It was exciting and gratifying to see the tremendous stream of people that flowed from all over the country, children and adults who arrived in the heat, while fasting, at odd hours and despite violence and police brutality,” Segal added in a separate statement.
The Israel Police responded to a Post query regarding Ettinger:
“This is a partial documentation of an illegal provocation by a person who refused the instructions of the police officers at the scene time after time.
“Today, towards the end of the visits to the Temple Mount, the suspect and others violated the rules of the visit and were removed from the site.
“The suspect began to confront the police officers and did not listen to their instructions to evacuate the place, [which were given] so as to continue to carry out the visits in an orderly fashion. The suspect pushed one of the officers and due to his inappropriate behavior, he was arrested and taken for questioning. Even after his arrest, he continued his unruly behavior and tried to resist the arrest.
“Unfortunately, while the police are working to allow many people to visit in accordance with the rules for visiting the place there are those who choose to confront the police and try in any way to violate the public order,” the police statement concluded.
The 2,200 figure was proclaimed “An all-time record of Jews who entered the Temple Mount on Tisha Be’Av since the days of the Temple,” according to a press release by “Beyadenu – Returning to the Temple Mount,” a foundation which promotes the entrance of Jews to Judaism’s holiest sites.
“The presence of thousands of [Jewish] pilgrims on Temple Mount in the largest group since the days of the Temple is a historic event,” said CEO of Beyadenu, Tom Nisani. “Now it remains for the state authorities to join the people, cancel the restrictions on Jews entering Temple Mount and allow full freedom of worship on the [Temple Mount] plaza,” he added.