More than 1,600 Jews visited the Temple Mount on Sunday to mark Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting and mourning in commemoration of the destruction of the two ancient Jewish temples and other tragedies that befell Jews on that date – the ninth of Av on the Jewish calendar.
The high Jewish presence on the Temple Mount today comes after Israel has reportedly softened its long held position on preventing Jewish prayers at the contested site, the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. In the past, neither Jews nor Christians were allowed to pray on the Temple Mount as part of an effort to reduce tensions with radical Muslim worshippers visiting the adjacent al-Aqsa Mosque.
Muslim worshippers clashed with police in protest against the Jewish prayers.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held security consultations with Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and Israeli police Chief Kobi Shabtai. In an official statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office, Bennett reportedly “instructed that the orderly and safe ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount should continue, while order is maintained at the site.”
Bennett said Israel would maintain freedom of worship for both Jews ascending the mount as well as Muslims whose holiday, Eid al-Adha, begins Monday at sundown.
The situation concerning the Temple Mount remains tense due to a combustible cocktail of inflammatory politics and religious radicalism. Last Friday, the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas warned that the Jewish state is “playing with fire” by greenlighting Jewish worshippers on the Temple Mount to mark the mourning of the two destroyed Jewish temples.
The issue of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount could potentially develop into a hot potato for the fragile Bennett government. Bennett is a political hawk and Israel’s first openly religious prime minister. It is therefore crucial for Bennett to demonstrate firmness on issues of national and religious importance to his constituency.
The Ra’am party, which is one of the eight coalition parties, condemned the presence of Jewish “settlers” on the Temple Mount today and said in a statement with the Islamic Movement that the “al Aqsa Mosque, in its 144 dunams, is solely the property of Muslims, and no one else has any right to it.”
Ra’am called certain actions provocations and warned it could inflame the situation in Jerusalem and the entire region, leading to a catastrophic religious war.”
On the other hand, the survival of the highly diverse government depends on the political support of the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties. These parties will likely oppose a policy shift that changes the status quo by allowing continued Jewish worshippers on the Temple Mount.
Starting with the late pro-Nazi Jerusalem Mufti al-Husseini in the 1930s, Muslim radicals have frequently disseminated claims that Jews threaten the al-Aqsa Mosque in order to foment political violence against Jews and later, the Jewish state.
Hamas recently accused Israel of “falsifying” Jerusalem’s history after archaeologists once again discovered proof of the ancient Jewish presence in Jerusalem. Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction and like its rival Fatah, Hamas systematically attacks any archeological discoveries that link the Jewish people to Jerusalem’s ancient pre-Islamic history.
In response to the inflammatory Hamas statements Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, toured Jerusalem’s Old City and vowed on Friday that the Jewish state would continue to defend its rights in Jerusalem against the falsehoods promoted by Hamas.
“As a former minister of public security, I know firsthand that contrary to the lies Hamas tries to spread to justify its terror, Israel goes to great efforts to ensure that people of all faiths are able to practice their religion in peace,” Erdan said. “We will continue to defend our right to the Holy City, and to defend the freedom of all who want to worship here.”
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.