What lies behind the alarming harassment of Jewish worshippers at Judaism's holiest site? And why aren't Temple Mount activists afraid?
by Ari Soffer
Why are Muslims obsessed with Jews visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem?
That's a question the Temple Institute is asking in a new illustrating the shocking harassment, intimidation and violence faced by Jewish pilgrims to the holiest site in Judaism at the hands of Muslim extremists.
The video is a montage of several clips - all taken by Muslim worshippers on a single day (1st October) - showing small groups of Jews on the Mount being verbally and, in at least one case, physically assaulted by mobs of Islamists in an attempt to drive them from the holy site.
In the last clip, the tactic finally works; a group of Jewish visitors are literally swept off the Mount for their own safety by police as an angry Muslim mob surges forward.
The Temple Institute's International Director, Rabbi Chaim Richman, said his organization had produced the video "to expose and publicize the horrific treatment that innocent Jewish visitors are subjected to daily on the Temple Mount - the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people."
"It is unconscionable that this travesty takes places in the heart of Jerusalem," he added, condemning the fact that amid all the violence by Muslim extremists, the police only made one arrest - of a young Jewish man who eventually responded in kind to the verbal abuse his group had been receiving throughout their visit.
"Those who visit the sacred site do so with expert rabbinical guidance, after taking all the necessary halachic steps and precautions to safeguard sanctity. The visitors goal is simply to have a spiritual experience, to be seen there by God, and to pray. But they are set upon by these malicious Muslim hordes, who act as if they are literally possessed by unbridled hatred. All this takes place under the watchful eyes of the Israel police, who never intervene, never act to distance the groups or stop them from following the Jews, and systematically reward the inciters by banishing the Jews from the Temple Mount whenever the mobs become too unruly - instead of arresting the perpetrators."
A sign of the times?
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, and has been revered as such for roughly 3,000 years. It was the location of the two Temples of Jerusalem, the latter of which was destroyed by Imperial Rome in 70 CE, and according to some Jewish traditions is also the spot where the creation of the world began.
But you wouldn't know it.
Today, the Islamic Al Aqsa Mosque complex stands on the ruins of the Jewish Temples, and the Muslim Waqf (an Islamic agency run by the Jordanian government) administers the site. Under pressure from the Waqf and amid violence and threats by Islamists, Israeli police impose severe restrictions on Jews from even entering the site: only small groups are allowed on at a time, accompanied by police and Waqf agents to ensure they do not engage in prayer or any other forms of worship - which is strictly forbidden for Jews under penalty of arrest. This despite numerous Israeli court rulings that Jews should by granted freedom of religion on the Mount and not be prevented from worshipping there.
Rabbi Richman noted that while not all Jewish groups face the same levels of intimidation and violence, incidents like the ones in the video are "a daily occurrence."
He accused authorities of not doing enough to enforce order, even on sensitive dates where restrictions are ostensibly put in place to distance Islamist extremists from the area and avoid clashes.
"The police make a show of trying to accommodate Jewish visits, but it is nothing more than an empty sham. On days when the police limit the entry of Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount to men over 50 years of age... then on those days, the crowds who follow, verbally abuse and push the Jews, are men over 50!
"On days when there are no restrictions, then the crowds consist of men, women and children, and youths who hurl incendiary devices."
"The Temple Institute created this video with footage that was created by the Muslims themselves. They film these occurrences and share them on social media because they are so proud and happy to be degrading the Jews on the Temple Mount."
Rabbi Richman singled out Internal Security Minister Yitzchak Aharonovich for particularly harsh criticism.
He said a recent statement by Aharonovich saying he would like to "tens of thousands" of Jews visiting the Temple Mount was deceptive.
"For him to have made this public statement is just another example of his cynical, manipulative disregard and insensitivity... for the orders he issues to the officers on the Temple Mount bespeak the exact opposite: Make it as difficult as possible for Jews to visit the Mount, keep them waiting on long lines for hours before allowing them to enter, subject them to discriminatory searches and identification procedures, threaten them with arrest if they move their lips in prayer - and as can be seen in this film, do nothing when they are set upon by these mobs, other than push the Jews themselves off the Mount."
As a leading figure in the campaign for equal Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount, this kind of harassment is something Rabbi Richman faces more often than most. But he says he isn't phased; in fact, he sees he growing belligerence by Islamists as a positive sign that the Jewish people are reclaiming their holiest site after centuries of occupation.
"As someone who experiences this regularly, I do not find confrontation with these Muslim agitators to be frightening or even the least bit disturbing. On the contrary, I believe this phenomena is a sign that the Muslims themselves know that their days of domination on the Temple Mount are numbered.
"They scream when we ascend the Mount because they know that the master of the house is coming home!"