Israeli Arab Lawmaker Vows to Visit Temple Mount on Ramadan, Despite Ban

Masud Ganaim of Joint Arab List informs Knesset speaker of his decision; MK Yehuda Glick announces he will file complaint in response.

Joint Arab List MK Masud Ganaim at the Knesset, May 5, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

Joint Arab List Knesset member Masud Ganaim announced on Thursday that, despite a police ban on such visits by Knesset members, he intends to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins the second week in June. The police and the Knesset Ethics Committee have sought to bar Knesset members for visiting the mount because of the potential for unrest that visits by Israeli legislators to the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, may cause.

Ganaim recently informed Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that he and other members of his United Arab List-Ta'al Knesset faction of the Joint Arab List intend to visit the Temple Mount shortly. In response, Knesset Sergeant-at-Arms Yosef Grif dispatched a letter to Ganaim reminding him that Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich had issued an open-ended ban on Israeli lawmakers visiting to mount, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand on a the site of the First and Second Temples of Jewish antiquity. The Knesset Ethics Committee has issued a similar ban.

"I would ask that you not violate the ban," Grif wrote to Ganaim, noting that Alsheich imposed the ban out of concern that such visits, in Ahsheich's words, "could bring about an intensification of the tension and an escalation of the events on the Temple Mount and its vicinity in a manner that constitutes a real danger to state security." On Thursday, however, Ganaim, who is a former chairman of the Islamic movement in the Galilee town of Sakhnin, announced that he would visit the mount despite the ban.

Newly sworn-in Likud Knesset MK Yehudah Glick, a long-time advocate of a Jewish presence on the mount, announced in response that he would file a Knesset Ethics Committee complaint against Ganaim over the matter.  The U.S.-born Glick, who himself visited the mount last week — just before being sworn in as a legislator — said in his first address to the Knesset that as long as he is a member of parliament, he would abide by security authority directives and would not visit the mount. "I demand sanctions against Masud Ganaim, who has announced in advance that he intended to blatantly ignore the Ethics Committee directives," Glick told the Knesset.

Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick.
Emil Salman

Police directives also bar Jewish members of the general public from praying on the mount. Last month a confrontation developed on the mount after two Jewish visitors to the site kneeled and prayed there, prompting dozens of Palestinians and representatives of the Muslim religious trust, the Waqf, which is responsible for day-to-day administration of the site, to attack them. Israeli security forces separated the two sides and removed the Jewish worshipers. No one was injured.

Last October, as part of efforts to quell a wave of violence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and to defuse tensions with the Kingdom of Jordan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Israel Police to prevent the admission of Jewish Knesset members and cabinet members to the mount until further notice. After right-wing cabinet ministers objected, the Prime Minister's Office issued a clarification stating that the ban also applied to Arab Knesset members.

A short time later, Joint Arab List Knesset member Basel Ghattas attempted to visit the mount and was turned back by the police, although he managed to get in a few days later. In a Facebook post that day he wrote: "Netanyahu and Israel cannot prevent us from entering the mosque and continue changing the status quo and bolstering the sovereignty of the Israeli occupation there." In response, Netanyahu called Ghattas' action "simply a provocation to stir up emotions."

The Brussels-based organization the International Crisis Group has reported that Netanyahu issued a commitment to Jordanian King Abdullah II in November 2014 to prevent Israeli politicians from visiting the mount and limit visits by religious Jews there. The understanding collapsed during the fall Jewish holidays last year after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan issued an order excluding the Muslim women's group, the Murabitat, which on a daily basis had been heckling Jews on their way to the mount, and after Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the Habayit Hayehudi party visited the mount.

The two developments were seen in Jordan as a violation of Netanyahu's commitment. Confrontations on the Temple Mount resumed, but calm was restored as a result of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Jordan in October 2015. King Abdullah refused to meet with Netanyahu, but an arrangement was worked out in which Netanyahu committed to announce that the status quo at the holy site would be maintained, meaning that Muslims would be allowed to pray there while non-Muslims could visit the site.