Just over nine months ago, when Israel’s governing coalition was sworn into power, it was immediately greeted with suspicion and hostility by much of the international community.
Unwilling to accept the democratic decision made at the ballot box by a majority of Israelis, detractors of the Jewish state wasted little time in labeling the new government “the most extreme in Israel’s history,” “the most far-right,” and even called it “messianic” in its pretensions.
And yet, despite those characterizations, when it comes to the treatment of Jews who want to visit and worship freely on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site for the Jewish people, this government has essentially continued the discriminatory policies of its predecessors.
However right-wing the coalition might be on various other issues, its approach toward the Temple Mount is anything but.
Vivid displays of incidents that took place
This was on vivid display in a series of incidents that took place over the past two weeks, which ranged from police brutality and misconduct to violations of the most fundamental democratic and civil rights of Israeli citizens.
Instead of making the site easily accessible to Jews and allowing them to commune with their creator as they see fit, the police employed some heavy-handed and entirely unacceptable tactics.
On September 26, for example, policemen attacked a group of Jewish pilgrims on the Temple Mount. A video of the incident shows one ostensible guardian of the law in uniform turning off his bodycam and then proceeding to rough up a young Israeli, nearly pushing him to the ground. Another officer can be heard shouting repeatedly at the group, “Do not sing! Do not sing!” while others try to confiscate the visitors’ cellphones in a threatening manner.
Members of the group say that the policemen also went through the photo galleries on their phones and coerced them to delete videos they had taken, presumably to cover up what had happened.
Needless to say, there is no law that says that visitors cannot sing or take photos nor should there be.
The episode was so grave that it prompted six Knesset members from the coalition to write a letter to National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a known champion of the Temple Mount, asking him to investigate the matter.
BUT THE abuse did not stop there.
This past Sunday, on the first intermediate day of Sukkot, the police attempted to prevent Jews from ascending to the Temple Mount with the traditional Four Species, which are a centerpiece of the holiday.
Over 20 Jews were detained, arrested, or removed from the Mount for waving the Four Species or for attempting to prostrate themselves on the ground as an act of religious devotion.
Had this happened anywhere else in the world, it would rightly have been denounced as antisemitism. Yet for some reason, at the holiest place for the Jewish people, such outrages are the norm.
A Temple Mount activist sent me a short video in which a young Israeli discreetly pulls a set of the Four Species out of his clothing before quickly shaking it in all directions to demonstrate that God is everywhere.
How has it come to this? Why must a Jew in the capital of the Jewish state be forced to act like a thief in the night just to perform the mitzvah of taking the lulav to the Temple Mount?
Other videos taken that day at the entrance to the Mount clearly show how Jews are made to wait in lines in order to go up, whereas groups of tourists are allowed immediate entry in yet another discriminatory act.
THIS STATE of affairs is simply intolerable and must not be allowed to continue. For all those who profess to truly care about Israel’s democracy, how can they possibly remain silent in the face of such abuses of religious freedom?
To be sure, the situation on the Temple Mount for Jews is far better than it was just a decade ago. More Jews are allowed to visit the site, and there are more hours of entry than in the past.
While these changes are welcome, they are far, very, very far, from enough. There is no reason why the Temple Mount, like the Western Wall, should not be open 24/7. And there is no excuse for the fact that Jews who want to pray on the Mount or celebrate the festivals there are not free to do so.
Just because some Arabs will yell and scream is no reason to give in to their undemocratic demands. The government’s responsibility is to ensure that citizens are able to exercise their fundamental rights and to uphold them, even in the face of a hostile mob.
The tragedy at the Temple Mount is that successive Israeli governments have allowed our sovereignty over this very special site to erode over the decades, emboldening our foes in the process.
If Israel’s current government truly wants to embody the will of the people, as well as advance the cause of Jewish destiny, it must act now to restore the Temple Mount to its rightful place as the focal point of our people’s return to their own land. ■
The writer served as deputy communications director under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term of office.