Israel To Close Temple Mount To Jews ‘Until Further Notice’ Due To Muslim Rioting

Right-wing parties charge that the Bennett Government is ‘giving in to terror’ instead of closing the Mount to the rioters; International community places blame for tensions on Israel.
Temple Mount
Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Israel’s government closed the Temple Mount to Jews after a week of rioting by Muslims angered by Jewish visitation and pilgrimage to the holy site during Passover.

Israeli police told Temple Mount Administrators, which coordinates visits by Jews to the Temple Mount, of the ban on April 22, saying it is in effect “until further notice.” Closing the site until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was expected, but the statement from the Temple Mount Administrators indicated that the closure may last longer.

Some 4,625 Jewish pilgrims visited the Temple Mount last week in honor of Passover, with many subjected to harassment by Muslim rioters who shouted “Allahu Akbar” and “Kill the Jews” as they made their way around the site surrounded by a heavy police guard. Muslim rioters blocked their path with barriers and smashed glass bottles open the ground where many Jews walked barefoot.

“Rocks were thrown at us and fireworks were shot at us from Muslims holed up inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” said Rabbi Shmuel Moreinu, a regular visitor to the Temple Mount. “I have never experienced it this bad before.”

“The destruction here is catastrophic,” said Dr. Melissa Jane Kronfeld, another regular visitor. “It is as if someone entered the Louvre and slashed the Mona Lisa, the National Library and tore up the Declaration of Independence, or stormed the Vatican and detonated a bomb. Yet, for the final five days that we were permitted to ascend, no effort was made by the Israel Police, the Jerusalem Municipality, or the State of Israel to clear away the piles of rocks, haphazard bunkers, shards of glass, or explosives debris – let alone save what remains of the antiquities and artifacts which have been which been used to build walls, fortifications, and other obstructions – along the route Jews are permitted to walk.”

The rioting, which was encouraged by some Arab leaders, was reportedly in protest of Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount. “Dozens of rioters threw stones and fired fireworks at police after the early morning Fajr prayer,” according to Israeli police. Videos circulating on social media show rioters shooting fireworks at police from within the Al-Aqsa Mosque located on the south of the Temple Mount compound, prompting a response from Israeli forces. 

The rioting did not stop once the Temple Mount was fully closed to Jews. On Friday, the first day of the closure, around 200 rioters, some of them masked and with Hamas flags, threw stones at Israeli security forces and toward the Western Wall, as well as set fire to a tree. Police waited for the end of prayers and for the worshipers to disperse before they used stun grenades and other riot dispersal techniques. Several rioters were arrested. Dozens of people were evacuated for medical treatment after suffering light to moderate injuries due to the riots, according to the Red Crescent Emergency Medical Service. 

The rioting continued throughout the weekend. Pictures shared on social media show hundreds of Muslims waving Hamas flags on the Temple Mount. Arnon Segal, a tour guide for the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, posted a picture on Twitter of a smashed police lookout structure that was thrown off the Temple Mount by rioters after they broke into the police checkpoint on top of the Gates of Mercy, located on the eastern wall of the compound. 

Instead of condemning those rioting, some Arab leaders sought to place the blame on Israel. Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh praised the rioters.

“I congratulate all Palestinians and all Jordanian Islamic Waqf workers who stand as tall as a turret and those who throw stones at pro-Zionists who defile the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the security of the Israeli occupation government,” Al-Khasawneh said.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh issued a statement in which he threatened further escalation of violence if Jews continue ascending the Temple Mount. “I tell Israel that if it thinks that the incursion of al-Aqsa will change its Islamic identity, it is delusional. What the settlers are doing in the mosque will push for conflict and confrontation on all levels. We are still at the beginning of the campaign.” He also encouraged Muslims to come en masse to the Temple Mount on Friday and to show their presence. 

Jordan and the UAE accused Israel of violating the freedom of worship of Muslims at the Al-Aqsa Mosque by responding to the riots. The Arab League also called on Israel to end Jewish prayers at the Temple Mount, warning it was a flagrant affront to Muslim feelings that could trigger a wider conflict.

United State Deputy Ambassador Richard M. Mills appealed to “all sides to exercise maximum restraint, avoid provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo. We urge Palestinian and Israeli officials to work cooperatively to lower tensions and ensure the safety of everyone, and we welcome recent steps taken in this regard.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, slammed those making an equivalence between the rioters and the police actions on the Temple Mount. “Many in the international community called for ‘calm on both sides.’ Such a demand is completely detached from reality. The very notion that mobs of violent rioters motivated by radical Islamic terror groups could be placed on the same moral scale as a law-abiding democracy making every effort to keep the peace is ludicrous,” he said in a United Nations Security Council hearing in New York on Monday. 

“Palestinian rioters defile their mosque with rocks and firebombs. They desecrate it with barricades made of trash. They sully it with riots and violence. All for the sake of hijacking the holy site and inflaming Jerusalem in order to gain political favor within Palestinian society,” Erdan added.

The Bennett government’s response to close the Mount to Jews instead of removing the rioters was met with strong condemnation from the Israeli right. MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party said that “closing the Temple Mount to Jews, the holiest place for the people of Israel, is a victory for Hamas and will only embolden them, leading to more riots and terror. This delusional decision will cost us blood. Surrender to our enemies only increases terrorism against us.”

The Beyadenu NGO led a protest at the entrance to the Temple Mount, hanging signs on the locked gate that said: “Because we surrendered to terrorism – the Temple Mount is closed.” Those signs were removed by police shortly afterward, due to the claim that it was ‘incitement’. 

“Once again, it turns out that the State of Israel encourages its citizens to resort to violence and terrorism in order to achieve what they want,” said Tom Nisani, CEO of Beyadenu. “There is no apparent reason to close the Temple Mount to Jews, other than to surrender to terrorism and violence and threats. A country that succumbs to threats against it betrays its duty to its law-abiding citizens.”

The Temple Mount Administrators NGO released a statement calling on the government “to stop closing the Temple Mount to Jews, and to reopen it every day and every hour, including Saturday, in accordance with the status quo of the year 2000.”

“The Temple Mount contains the roots and the foundation of Judaism,” said Rabbi Chaim Ozer Chait, Dean of Yeshivat Har Habayit. “It connects the Jewish people to the God of Israel. To surrender the Temple Mount to a foreign nation would be a violation of this most basic principle of faith. It would be considered an act of treason on behalf of the Jewish people.”

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