National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount early Tuesday morning with no prior indication to the media that his much-ballyhooed ascent was taking place.
The visit passed without incident. At least for now.
“Our government will not surrender to threats from Hamas,” Ben Gvir said after his visit. “The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel. We maintain the freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews also go up to the site, and those who make threats must be dealt with an iron fist.”
The terror organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, had said that a visit by the controversial right-wing minister would be met with missiles or a general threat of violence.
The Palestinian Authority called the visit an “unprecedented provocation.”
“Netanyahu bears responsibility for this attack on Al Aqsa,” the P.A. said in a statement.
Hebrew media has been back and forth since Sunday night, reporting that Ben Gvir’s visit was imminent and then backtracking yesterday and reporting that he had delayed it. That’s why his Tuesday morning visit – before 8 a.m. – caught the country by surprise.
Such a visit has the potential to shake the delicate status quo of the holy site and could trigger violence. [Read more here about how a high-profile visit by a sitting Israeli minister would spark war or dramatically change the status quo.]
Even before he became a minister in the newly installed government, Ben Gvir – the head of the Jewish Power party who just assumed authority over the Israel Police – was a frequent visitor to the site. He said his visits are necessary to “remind everyone that we are the owners of the holiest place for the people of Israel.”
This was his first visit as a Cabinet minister.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. The location is believed to be where both the First and Second Temple stood. It is the third holiest site in Islam and, currently, the plaza is home to Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims pray there annually.
Yehudah Glick – an Orthodox Jewish Temple Mount activist – lauded Ben Gvir’s visit, which took place on the fasting day commemorating Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s siege on Jerusalem – a symbol of the beginning of the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25).
“Today, thousands of years later, New Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir ascends Temple Mount in sovereign State of Israel,” he wrote on Twitter. “Are the words of Zachariah (8:19) ‘and the fast of the tenth [month] shall be for the house of Judah for joy and happiness and for happy holidays-but love truth and peace’ unfolding in front of our eyes? Praying to Hashem God Almighty – Let it be!”
Knesset Member Ofer Cassif, who sits in the opposition, blasted the Israeli government for allowing a potentially inflammatory visit and laid the blame for any subsequent violence squarely on the Israeli government.
He also called on the international community to “stop this government, stop this madness before the whole region is going to blow up in fire.”
“The racist, the fascist, the so-called Minister of National Security Ben Gvir is planning to ascend the Al Aqsa compound this week,” he said in a video in English on Twitter on Monday. “I’m warning here if there’s going to be any bloodshed, any violence, it would be the total blame of the Israeli government, first and foremost of Netanyahu’s as the prime minister. Also, of course, of Ben Gvir, who himself is going to ignite the fire on purpose, but of the government as a whole, the blame will be only on the Israeli government.”
Knesset Member Gilad Kariv said Ben Gvir’s decision showed he was prioritizing the “promotion of an extreme nationalistic worldview” rather than the safety of Israeli citizens and the functioning of the police.
“Particularly on the fast day of the 10th of Tevet, it is important to remember that the connection between political extremism, intoxication from power and government corruption led to the destruction of the temple,” Kariv said in a statement. “Standing up against these phenomena is essential to guaranteeing the future of Israel.”
The “status quo” on the Temple Mount gives Muslims the right to pray at the site with few restrictions on their visits. People from other religions have limited access to the site and are not allowed to pray.
In forming his right-wing and nationalistic coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also assured the nation’s allies that Israel would maintain the status quo “with regard to the holy places.”
The infamous visit by late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2000 is often blamed for sparking the second intifada – the Palestinian uprising characterized by catastrophic suicide bombings throughout the streets of Israel.
Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.