Arab MKs denounce Jewish visitation to Temple Mount in Knesset hearing

“There is no Temple Mount,” shouts MK Zahalka at proposal to find solution to allow Jews to enter compound.

Police patrol near the Temple Mount 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Police patrol near the Temple Mount 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Extraordinary scenes unfolded in the Knesset Committee for the Interior on Monday afternoon, when Arab MKs objecting to Jewish visitation rights at the Temple Mount wildly and ferociously denounced Bayit Yehudi and Likud lawmakers before storming out of the hearing.
Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud) called the session to discuss the continued problems Jewish visitors experience on the Temple Mount.
In addition, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) announced during the hearing he was seeking to reach an agreement with the Chief Rabbinate, which is opposed to Jewish visitation at the site, for approved and agreed procedures for Jews wishing to pray there.
The Chief Rabbinate has historically prohibited Jews from visiting the Temple Mount due to the concern that someone may walk into an area of the compound that should not be entered unless certain rituals have been performed.
Increasing numbers of devout Orthodox Jews, largely from the conservative wing of the national-religious movement, now visit the site, however, citing the opinions of senior rabbis who argue it is possible to visit the Temple Mount while avoiding the prohibited areas.
But MKs Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and other Arab lawmakers present at the hearing reacted furiously to the notion of standardizing procedures for less restricted Jewish access to the Temple Mount and shouted warnings of dire consequences, including a new intifada, should such proposals be advanced.
Tibi was ejected from the hearing but reappeared a short time later only to continue shouting, along with several other Arab MKs as they stormed out of the hearing.
“There is no Temple Mount,” shouted Zahalka. “There is only the Aksa Mosque, I don’t see a Temple Mount, it’s something virtual” he shouted, and continued to call out “al-Aksa” every time anyone in the hearing said the words “Temple Mount.”
Zahalka accused the Bayit Yehudi lawmakers present, along with Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, an ardent supporter of Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount, of being “pyromaniacs.”
“You’re playing with fire and you’re starting an inferno,” he yelled. “I’m not threatening anything, I’m just saying what will happen.”
Hadash MK Muhammad Barakei averred that “anyone who wants to desecrate al-Aksa [Mosque] will find us there, not here.”
Tibi said that the second intifada had broken out “because of al-Aksa, and because of you it [another intifada] will break out again, also because of al-Aksa.”
He accused Regev of being “irresponsible and dangerous, to yourself, to your children, and also to the public.”
Once the Arab MKs had left, the debate continued with Shas MKs David Azoulai and Yitzhak Cohen criticizing Ben-Dahan and the other Bayit Yehudi MKs for promoting Jewish visitation to the site, on the grounds that senior rabbis have ruled against it.
Azoulai argued that the issue was being advanced in the committee, as opposed to formulating legislation, because the proponents of such activities know that legislation would cause a far greater uproar and be less likely to succeed.
Feiglin responded, saying that renowned rabbi Moses Maimonides visited the Temple Mount when he was in the region in the 12th century and that rulings by rabbis in the years since the site came back under Israeli control were made only to prevent people from entering areas prohibited by Jewish law, and not because going to the Temple Mount was intrinsically forbidden.
Regev insisted that access to holy sites for members of all faiths should be upheld.
She added that a strong complaint would be lodged with the Knesset Ethics Committee against the behavior of the Arab MKs who disrupted the hearing.
Jewish visits to the Temple Mount are tightly restricted by the police and the Jordanian Wakf Islamic trust which administers the site.
Ben-Dahan said that he had spoken with the Chief Rabbinate on the issue of Jewish visitation and that he “hoped that it will accept the reality that [some] rabbis are telling individuals that they are permitted to go to the Temple Mount.”
He added that the Religious Services Ministry was preparing a proposal which will define when and how Jewish prayer will be permitted in the compound.
The deputy minister said it is the chief rabbis who define Halacha for the public, and that he hoped it would be possible to draw up proposals that the Chief Rabbinate would agree with.
Jewish and other non-Muslim visitors are only permitted to enter the compound during certain hours of the day and never on Fridays.
In addition, the police and officials of the Islamic trust prohibit Jews and non- Muslims from praying on the Temple Mount.
The increasing numbers of Jewish Israelis visiting the site has led to heightened tensions, and Jewish visitors have complained that they face greater police obstruction and restrictions in their efforts to go to the Temple Mount.