Stormy debate: Knesset hosts first-ever parley on Temple Mount sovereignty in plenum

MK Feiglin says without the Mount there is no Israel; Left calls holy site a powder keg that could explode any minute.

Palestinian protesters on Temple Mount 370 (photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
Palestinian protesters on Temple Mount 370
(photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
The State of Israel is pointless without the Temple Mount, MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu) said at the first-ever plenum discussion of Israeli sovereignty over the holy site on Tuesday.
The debate came on the same day as the latest in a series of rioting on the Mount in the past month, by Arabs who object to any Jewish presence on the holy site. Tuesday morning’s riot resulted in three arrests and two police officers lightly injured. Stun grenades were used to disperse the rioters.
Feiglin opened his motion to the agenda by describing the destruction of archeological artifacts on the Mount. He said that “behind the nation’s back, we gave up every remnant of Israeli sovereignty on the Mount. Any terrorist organization can wave its flag, but the Israeli flag? It’s unmentionable.”
The Likud Beytenu MK protested the limitations on Jewish worship on the Mount.
“Saying a chapter from Psalms can get you arrested. Police recommend removing kippot.
I don’t know any other country in the world that tells Jews to take off their kippot, and here it’s happening in the heart of the capital of Israel.
“Without the Temple Mount, we have no home. Not in Tel Aviv, not in Haifa, and not anywhere else. There is no purpose and no designation for our sovereign existence in the entire land. The time has come to stop the erosion of our sovereignty in the heart of Jerusalem,” he said.
“The Temple Mount is in our hands,” Feiglin said, quoting then IDF colonel Motta Gur, whose paratroopers captured the Mount during the Six Day War. He added a reference to Herzl: “If we will it, it will not be just a dream.”
“The State of Israel is a powder keg in the Middle East and we don’t pack our bags and leave,” Deputy Defense Minister Tzipi Hotovely said.
“There is no Zionism without Zion,” she added. “There is no Jerusalem without the Temple Mount. The government must open visiting hours on the Mount. What are you afraid of?” MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi) said the Jewish people’s real home, the Temple of antiquity, was destroyed, and Israel is allowing that process to continue.
“[Muslims] play soccer on the Mount and have picnics and defecate there,” Struck lamented.
“When Jews in exile prayed for the return to Zion, I don’t think they prayed to return to Tel Aviv, and not to the Knesset, either, but to the Temple Mount,” coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) quipped. “If we allow the situation to continue, we will fail in our mission of Jewish continuity.”
Several MKs on the Left, starting with Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On, said that the Temple Mount is a powder keg waiting to explode.
“No one doubts that Jews have the right to ascend the Temple Mount, but there is a difference between having a right and exercising it,” Gal- On stated. “[This discussion] is a provocation that has one goal: to blow up relations between Israel and the Muslim world and torpedo diplomatic negotiations.”
Gal-On said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not take part in the debate, because “the people initiating it want to endanger the State of Israel” – though Netanyahu usually does not come to the Knesset on Tuesdays.
Most motions to the agenda end with a message that MKs vote to approve or reject. However, the messages are sponsored by parties, not individuals, and Netanyahu and Feiglin had been unable to agree on one.
MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi) quoted Netanyahu as saying in 1995 that “I think we should arrange for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, and I think we’ll be able to do it after we [the Likud] lead the country again.”
Moalem-Refaeli asked: “Mr. Prime Minister, you are already leading the country, so maybe the time has come to arrange for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount? I haven’t heard hypocrisy like MK Gal-On’s in a long time. She says she believes in freedom of worship, but only for Arabs. We Jews have no problem letting anyone who wants to pray there.”
MK Nachman Shai (Labor) pointed out that “just this morning there was rioting on the Temple Mount because of this unnecessary discussion. I understand the sentiment – everyone wants to go to the Temple Mount – but we have to recognize the facts.”
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) praised UAL-Ta’al, Balad and Hadash’s decision to demonstratively walk out of the discussion.
He called the debate “an act.”
“Mr. Feiglin, why stop at the Temple Mount?” he asked. “If you’re the new Messiah of our time, what about the covenant of the pieces [between God and Abraham]? What about the [land of] the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Menashe [to the east of the Jordan River]? Why are you leaving them out?” Shas MKs pointed out that the party’s deceased spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, had said that Jews are forbidden from ascending the Temple Mount.
At the same time, MK David Azulay (Shas) said that Israel does have sovereignty over the Mount and should not let it be a place of lawlessness. The MK added that Netanyahu is tough only on haredim, but not on Arabs on the Temple Mount.
Following Tuesday morning’s latest violent episode on the Temple Mount, a cross-section of visitors to the Kotel expressed pronounced dismay regarding chronic Arab rioting over Jewish visitation rights at the Mount.
“This is the last remnant of the First and Second Temples, and all the Jews want to do is come here and have a connection with the Almighty,” said Alan Taylor, an Orthodox man visiting from Britain. “They just want to pray, but Arabs have this fantasy that this somehow belongs to them. It’s clear in the Old Testament what the facts are, but they’ve been distorted and manipulated by the Muslim community.”
Moreover, Taylor said that the left-wing segment of the media had exacerbated the conflict on the Temple Mount by incessantly portraying the Arabs as put-upon “underdogs.”
“The media feel they have to protect the underdog, and that aggravates the situation,” he said.
Although Taylor conceded that his religious beliefs dictate that it is blasphemous for Jews to tread on the Temple Mount, he said he understands that to many Jews the site is no different than visiting the Western Wall.
“If this situation was happening at the Wall, then that would be much more problematic to me,” he said. “But I personally think that it is not sensible or desirable to antagonize the Muslims as a pragmatic stance. Still, violence is unacceptable.”
Bryan Opert, a tourist from South Africa who said a rock was thrown at his bus by an Arab while en route to the Kotel, said he finds the violence profoundly disturbing.
“Throwing stones at a religious place is just a lack of dignity,” he said. “I understand the problem, but to take it out at a religious site takes away from the dignity of it, and I find it enormously antagonistic.”
Meanwhile, Ron Lowry, a Christian visiting the Wall from Virginia, said he questioned the wisdom of allowing the Wakf Muslim religious trust to have control over the contested site following the 1967 War.
“I don’t know why [Israel] ever gave it back to them,” he said. They should never have given them possession of it. Let them come and go as they please, but this is Jewish territory, Jewish land.”