Gissin talks Sharon's Temple Mount visit 10 years later

Former PM's spokesman tells ‘Post’: Sharon knew Palestinians were planning violence, but wanted to show he wouldn’t compromise on J’lem.

Sharon 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sharon 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Future prime minister Ariel Sharon was told by his spokesman Ra’anan Gissin that visiting the Temple Mount could be used by Palestinians as an excuse for violence, Gissin said Tuesday on the 10th anniversary of Sharon’s controversial visit.
Palestinians began throwing rocks immediately after Sharon left the compound. The Palestinians called the uprising that began the “Al-Aksa intifada,” even though an IDF sergeant critically wounded in a bomb attack the day before Sharon’s visit is considered the first victim of the wave of violence, and Palestinian officials have admitted that then- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had planned the intifada months before.
“It was a sensitive time during the High Holy Days and at the end of Ramadan,” Gissin said. “I told him the situation was tense in the West Bank and that [Palestinian general Tawfik] Tirawi’s people were planning to do something on the Temple Mount, whether the trigger would be Sharon or something else. Sharon knew he was playing into their hands, but he went in a clear-headed manner to prove that he wouldn’t compromise on Jerusalem and that Israel would stand up for its rights.”
The initiator of the wave of violence, Marwan Barghouti, later told the Al-Hayat newspaper that he had decided that Sharon’s visit would be the most appropriate moment for the outbreak of the intifada.
“The night prior to Sharon’s visit, I participated in a panel on a local television station and I seized the opportunity to call on the public to go to the Aksa Mosque in the morning, for it was not possible that Sharon would reach al-Haram al- Sharif [the Temple Mount area] just so, and walk away peacefully,” Barghouti said.
“I finished and went to al-Aksa in the morning. We tried to create clashes without success because of the differences of opinion that emerged with others in the Aksa compound at the time,” he continued.
“After Sharon left, I stayed for two hours with other people and discussed the manner of response and how it was possible to react in all the cities and not just Jerusalem.”
Sharon visited the Temple Mount on the advice of his strategic adviser at the time, David Spector, in order to boost his effort to remain Likud leader ahead of an expected challenge from then-former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Highlighting the Jerusalem issue, which was a matter of consensus, helped Sharon unify the Right behind him and prove his leadership.
“The visit was the turning point in his fledgling career,” Gissin said. “He was considered a caretaker party leader in the Likud at the time. He looked for something to posture him as a real leader, and Jerusalem was close to his heart.”
The Likud leader ascended the mountain with his son Gilad and MKs Moshe Arens, Reuven Rivlin, and Yehoshua Matza. Sharon, who owns an apartment in Jerusalem’s Muslim quarter, later used keeping the capital united as a key issue in his campaign against then-prime minister Ehud Barak.
“It was the definitive move to capture the premiership,” Gissin said. “It emphasized his attachment to Jerusalem and helped him position himself as the leading candidate for prime minister. He also wanted to show that we have a right to be there, because Jews were afraid to go up there and police were saying that it wasn’t safe.”
Asked whether Sharon ever regretted ascending the Mount, Gissin said, “No, he said it was the right time to tell the Palestinians that Jerusalem was not for sale.”