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Why MKs Won't Give Up on Temple Mount Visits

reposted from Israel National News
11/5/2014

Jewish Home Secretary General says MKs will up their campaign for Temple Mount prayers; 'Jordan is in no position to threaten us.'

by Ari Soffer

The attempted assassination of veteran activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick and clashes over the subsequent temporary closure of the Temple Mount have cast a spotlight once again on the struggle for Jewish prayer on the Mount - Judaism's holiest site - and the angry, often violent Muslim opposition to the prospect of Jewish worship there.

And yet, despite the continued harassment and threats of violence by Islamist groups, as well as calls by Prime Minister Netanyahu for MKs to hold back, many - including senior officials and MKs - continue to visit the Temple Mount.

Soon after it was reopened, Likud MK Moshe Feiglin made the first high-profile Israeli visit, brushing off the verbal abuse and threats hurled at him by Muslim extremists. Jewish Home MK Shuli Mualem followed suit, under a similar barrage of abuse and even a physical assault, as did Feiglin's fellow party member, Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotoveli.

During her visit Mualem was accompanied by Secretary General of the Jewish Home party Uri Bank (seen walking beside Mualem in video footage taken at the site). Speaking to Arutz Sheva, Bank explained why he felt such visits were so important and what his party believes must be done to affect positive change.

As representatives of the State of Israel, visits by MKs are a particularly powerful statement of the will of the people for Israeli sovereignty and Jewish freedom of worship on the Temple Mount, he said. "In order to implement our sovereignty on the Temple Mount we need MKs to ascend regularly."

Bank also noted that visits by "visibly Jewish," regular Israelis were just as significant, in order "to show we're there" and not willing to abandon Judaism's holiest site in spite of the difficulties.

As a religious Jew himself, Bank said he felt two very distinct sets of feelings during his visit on Monday - his third to the holy site.

On the one hand, he felt "the holiness, the sense of closeness to the Holy of Holies. Conscious of the fact that I'm walking on the holiest place on earth - and during all of that praying in my heart for Yehuda Glick's speedy recovery, the man who has spearheaded the campaign for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount."

But on the other hand, encapsulating the kind of mixed emotions felt by many Jewish visitors to the site, he described his opposing feelings of "outrage" at the relative impunity with which Muslim extremists are able to harass - and sometimes even physically assault - Jewish visitors.

Far from helping to calm the situation, he claimed the sense of impunity granted to them via authorities' softly-softly approach to incitement on the Temple Mount merely invites further violence - reinforcing the false notion "that their 'historic rights' trump ours."

"The fact is that they feel that the Temple Mount is their's and it isn't really 'in our hands'," he said, referring to the famous quote by IDF Lt. Gen. Mordechai "Motta" Gur, who led the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 and announced over radio that: "The Temple Mount is in our hands!"

Ironically, the Waqf Islamic trust to which Israel handed over administration of the Temple Mount is run by the very state from which the site was liberated during the Six Day War: Jordan. The Jordanian government has led pressure against any Jewish prayers being conducted on the Temple Mount, with Jordan's King Abdullah II recently vowing to fight any attempts to implement equal prayer arrangements for Jews.

"For so many years now that has not been the case," Bank lamented, relating to Gur's iconic broadcast. "De facto, the Temple Mount is not in our hands and sovereignty has been given to them because they are allowed to do whatever they want - they riot, they throw rocks at the Kotel (Western Wall) plaza and they are never accountable for their actions."

"It's only the Jewish side which is forced by the government of Israel, by the Prime Minister, to suffer," he continued, referring to the much-resented practice of police banning Jews - not Muslims - from the Temple Mount in response to Muslim violence.

"The Muslims riot - so they take Jews off the Temple Mount!" he exclaimed. "And if they riot even further... and throw rocks on the Kotel plaza, the reaction of the authorities is to clear the plaza so people don't get hurt by rocks, instead of arresting and jailing those responsible.

"So not only have Muslim threats of violence been able to prevent Jews from praying on the Temple Mount for so many years now, when they feel like it they can even stop us praying at the Kotel!"

Popular effort needed

Bank stresses that the issue is not one of legislation - despite the fact that several bills, including one proposed by Jewish Home MK Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, have been drafted in an attempt to force the government to implement Jewish prayer rights there. The ball is firmly in the court of Prime Minister and the security services - headed by Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich.

"As far as I know, on the legislative level there is nothing that needs to be done," he stated. "The High Court has already ruled that the Prime Minister's Office and police have to find a for Jews to receive equal rights of worship on the Temple Mount.

"There is no law that says that Jews can't pray there, so there's no law that has to be changed - we just have to convince or force the Prime Minister or the police to implement the letter of the law."

The constant visits by MKs are an important way of keeping the issue in the public consciousness, but in his opinion Jewish people in general need to reconnect with the central importance of the Temple Mount and stop "making do" with praying at its outer wall, the Kotel. Bank himself has refused to pray at the Kotel for 10 years, and urged other Jews to do the same.

"The Kotel is the outer wall of what used to be our Temple - and it only became sanctified and holy because it was the closest place the Muslims let us get to the Temple Mount," he explains, insisting that by accepting such an arrangement Jews are facilitating their own oppression.

"Our willingness to suffice with the Kotel is what is allowing the Muslims to feel like they are in control of our holiest site. If all Jews would decide that the Kotel isn't good enough - that we've come home to our homeland and the Temple Mount is in our hands - we will have true impetus to affect a change in the whole situation there."

Of course, the issue is somewhat more complicated. Although many major halakhic (Jewish law) authorities encourage visits to the Temple Mount, other leading rabbis discourage it for fear of violating the complex laws of ritual purity which apply there.

Bank himself notes that his own party's MKs are split on the issue on a personal level: while some regularly ascend with rabbinic approval, others follow the instruction of their own rabbis not to do so.

But as a matter of policy that is beside the point, he says; the Jewish Home party is united in the belief that those who wish to pray on the Temple Mount should be allowed to do so.

"Even if there are MKs within Jewish Home who might not ascend the Temple Mount out of specific halackic concerns, there is an official party position that those Jews who want to and have rabbis who rule it is permissible should be allowed to pray."

He describes as "unthinkable" the fact that a democratic society such as Israel should be implementing blatantly discriminatory policies regarding freedom of religion - and cited several High Court rulings upholding the rights of Jews to pray at the site.

"There's no such thing in the democratic world that only one religion is allowed to have their freedom of worship under the threat that if anybody else gets it they're going to riot!"

Jordanian threats? Just 'saber-rattling'

But what of Jordanian threats to end its peace treaty with Israel if Jews are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, as well as likely international pressure to restore the current "status quo"?

To start with, he says the Jewish Home party rejects to the very term itself, and called for a fundamental change in the public discourse on the matter.

"We argue that the term 'status quo' is a false term (in the case of the Temple Mount). "If you go through the history of when the Jews were allowed to go up to the Temple Mount and pray, you see it has changed constantly. There is no 'status quo' - it ebbs and flows. So we don't accept the terminology of the prime minister and internal security minister."

Regarding Jordanian threats and international pressure, Bank says that Israel should have confidence in the strength of its own case.

"Diplomatically and legally-speaking we have a very easy case to make," he insists.

"The fact that the State of Israel has the responsibility to ensure freedom of religion for everyone is a very easy sell - and that's what we should be telling the Jordanians as well."

Under Israel's peace treaty with Jordan the Waqf has administrative control over Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, including the Al Aqsa mosque compound, built on the ruins of the two Jewish Temples. But Bank rejects any attempts to suggest that Israel is thereby obligated to ban Jews from praying on the wider Temple Mount.

"If anybody signed a treaty with Jordan that disallowed Jews the freedom to worship on their holiest site I think that would be an illegitimate treaty to begin with," he declared, dismissing Jordanian threats to abrogate its treaty with Israel as "empty saber-rattling."

"I don't think the Jordanians are going to go to war with us even over such a volatile issue," he pointed out. And despite the fiery rhetoric coming from Amman, it is firmly against the precariously-situated Hashemite Kingdom's interests to stoke Islamist violence, given the very real possibility of a fatal blowback from the country's own simmering Islamist opposition.

"The Jordanians are very much dependent on Western and Israeli support," particularly in the aftermath of recent upheavals in the Middle East, and with the Islamic State knocking on Jordan's door.

"The King of Jordan is very shaky to begin with and is essentially being propped up by the US and to an extent Israel - I don't think he is in a position to make any such threats against us," he added.

As for the potential for violence: Bank admits it is a possibility that the current wave of violence would worsen should Jews stake their claim to pray on the Temple Mount, but predicts it would be relatively short-term, comparing it to the 1996 Kotel Tunnels incident in which Palestinians reacted violently to Israel extending the Western Wall tunnel.

As a possible way to avoid an all-out conflagration - and give Israel ample opportunity to present its case - Bank suggests Israel begin by closing the Mount altogether to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and follow the move with a "worldwide PR campaign to explain to the world that our courts, and our democracy do not allow us to discriminate on issues of freedom of religion. So either nobody, no religions, can pray on the Temple Mount, or there is freedom of worship for all."

In any event, he predicts legislators and other prominent officials will step up their public appearances at the Temple Mount, describing it as a "protest vigil."

"The MKs who believe in this - whether they're from Jewish Home or not - are going to continue ascending the Temple Mount day after day after day."

"We're not going to allow this issue to settle back down," he vowed. "We are going to keep this issue in the Israeli consciousness until the prime minister has to deal with this."

 

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