Clashes erupted early Monday morning between police and Palestinian youth at the Temple Mount, amid growing criticism from the Israeli right for the police closure of the sacred site to Jewish visitors.
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Four Palestinians, two of them minors, were arrested over disorderly conduct. Police said Palestinian youth had prepared rocks, firebombs and firecrackers inside Al-Aqsa Mosque and set up barricades at the entrance, as part of a plan to confront Israeli police and cause disruptions at the Temple Mount.
Meanwhile, right-wing politicians have been calling on the government to change the status quo on the Temple Mount by allowing Jews to pray at the Old City of Jerusalem site where Jewish tradition states that the Temple was located. The site is Judaism’s holiest and is also sacred for Muslims and Christians.
“The fact that a Jew cannot enter and pray, or even enter, is intolerable and doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” said MK Eli Ben Dahan, the deputy minister of religious services and a Habayit Hayehudi member. “Yesterday people came from all over the country and wanted to enter and pray, and even to visit, and were unable to do so. This situation in which the police close the Temple Mount to Jews because Arabs riot cannot continue.”
MK Miri Regev of Likud said police were being too lenient. “The situation in which Muslim citizens permit themselves to behave violently towards policemen on the Temple Mount is a result of leniency towards the rioters,” she said.
The compound was closed to non-Muslims on Sunday, part of the Sukkot holiday underway this week.
During a visit to the Western Wall plaza and a meeting with police forces in the area, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, who is responsible for the police, said he fully supports the decision to close the Temple Mount.
“The decision was made for operational reasons of the district commander, but I am examining the possibility that if the mount is closed to Jews it will be closed to Muslims too,” Aharonovich said, adding that those responsible for the rioting are Hamas and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told UN chief Ban Ki-moon that Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount exactly as it has been for decades, but added that members of all religions have the right to pray at their sacred sites.
Several months ago, Ben Dahan submitted a proposal to Netanyahu that would enable Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, but the prime minister did not approve them. Under the proposal, there would be specific times when Jews are allowed to pray at a certain compound on the mount, similar to the model introduced at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
“This is a decision on the strategic level, so we expect the government to discuss the matter,” said Ben Dahan. “But it’s impossible to leave the situation as it is, in which the Temple Mount is the holiest place and is also the only place where a Jew cannot pray.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also recently called for a change in the delicate balance on the Temple Mount.
“I’m not satisfied with the status quo at the site,” he told the religious newspaper Makor Rishon. “Usually a status quo accords with the law; here we have a disparity between the status quo and the law, or the understanding of the High Court of Justice. I feel there is a disparity here that we have to examine how to deal with, and it’s possible to find a solution without causing rioting and an explosion.”
The left-wing Ir Amim association said the right has recently intensified its activity in favor of allowing Jews to pray at the Temple Mount.
In one such example, a new movement is advocating for a synagogue to be built on the site. The Ariel religious youth movement recently devoted a year to learning about the Temple Mount, and there has been an increase in the flow of visitors and the number of events centering on the subject.
However, sources familiar with the issue say there is no chance Netanyahu would agree to change the status quo at the site, due to heavy international pressure and the security services’ fear of a violent outburst.
Netanyahu recently ordered the dismantling of a temporary wooden bridge outside the Temple Mount that was supposed to lead to the Mughrabi Gate in the area, for fear of a crisis with Jordan.