Israel to Close Temple Mount for Jews on Jerusalem Day for First Time in 30 Years

Police say they plan to prevent Jews from visiting the site because the holiday will coincide with final days of Ramadan ■ Activists vow to fight decision

Jewish Israelis waiting in line to enter the Temple Mount in 2017
Olivier Fitoussi

For the first time in three decades, Israeli authorities are expected to bar Jews from entering the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel's capture of East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War.

The police have closed the Mount — the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam — to Jews every year for the last 10 days of Ramadan, which this year coincides with Jerusalem Day. The last year Jews were barred from the site on Jerusalem Day was 1988.

"Every year, the Temple Mount is closed to visits during the final days of the month of Ramadan for reasons of public safety and security and public order," the police told the group Students for the Temple Mount. 

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Arnon Segel, a Temple Mount activist, vowed to fight the decision, saying that "we expect every person who is a proponent of democracy and freedom of worship to fight this and not accept it."

Students for the Temple Mount and the Temple Mount Heritage Fund  released a statement saying that "we will no longer accept discrimination against Jews at their holy sites, certainly not on liberation day for this dear site. We will fight to keep it open the way a person fights for his home."

In response, the police told activist groups that "there will soon be a final decision on the subject." 

Palestinians pray in front of the Dome of the Rock shrine on the Temple Mount during Ramadan, May 10, 2019.
Mahmoud Illean,AP

Jews were barred from the Temple Mount while East Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule from 1948 through 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank and other territories during the Six-Day War.

Jerusalem Day has in recent years seen the highest number of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, with 2,000 visiting last year. The holiday is also expected to fall during the last 10 days of Ramadan for the next two years.

Temple Mount activists are also concerned that the site will be closed to Jews during Tisha B'Av, a Jewish fast day that commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples. This year, in August, the holiday falls on the same day as the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The police are also considering limiting the scope and route of the annual Jerusalem Day flag march in which tens of thousands of religious Zionist youths march through the Old City, including the Muslim Quarter.

The flag parade has often sparked tensions, and participants have sometimes used it as a stage for racist comments. The police have said that this year they are considering barring marchers from circling the Old City, limiting the gates through which they may enter and restricting the number of marchers and duration of the parade.

During the event, restrictions on movement are imposed on Palestinians, and certain streets and neighborhoods in the Muslim Quarter are closed. The march goes from West Jerusalem toward the Old City to Tzahal Square, where it splits by gender — girls march via Jaffa Gate and the Jewish Quarter and boys via Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter.

In the past two years, some of the boys have been allowed to encircle the Old City from the north and east.