August 8, 2013 Thursday 2 Elul 5773
by Daniel K. Eisenbud
Police evacuate worshipers after disturbances between visitors.
Dozens of demonstrators peacefully gathered at the locked Mugrabi Gate leading to the Temple Mount early Wednesday to protest unusually stringent police restrictions against the admission of Jews to the site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The site, which is overseen by the Wakf Muslim religious trust, was initially open to Jews during mornings in the first two weeks of Ramadan. However, on several occasions, when Jewish visitors were threatened by Muslim worshipers, police were forced to evacuate them.
Indeed, last month during Tisha Be’av – considered the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, when Jews mourn the numerous tragedies that have befallen them on that date, including the destruction of the temples – officers barred them from the Temple Mount due to Muslim threats.
Although the Supreme Court has upheld Jewish prayer rights at the site, the court allows police to prevent any form of worship there if they believe such activities will incite a “disturbance to the public order.”
During Tisha Be’av, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the decision by police to bar Jews from entering the Temple Mount had been a preemptive measure after a security assessment determined there was an imminent threat to their safety.
At 7:30 on Wednesday morning, demonstrators draped in tallitot and wrapped in tefillin quietly held a prayer vigil behind the locked Mugrabi Gate while Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a spokesman for the Joint Committee of Temple Organizations, expressed his indignation.
“Basically, in the past, during the month of Ramadan, the Temple Mount was closed for three days to Jews, which we accepted,” said Glick. “This year they closed it for two weeks of the month – and for the first 10 days they only let us in for two hours instead of three.”
The Temple Mount is normally open to non- Muslims for three hours every morning and one hour in the afternoon – while during Ramadan it has previously been open to Jews in the morning for the majority of the month.
“We feel that the rights of Jews at the Temple Mount are getting worse and we’re afraid this process will escalate,” said Glick. “We’re here to warn that we won’t tolerate this anymore – and just like they want us to respect Ramadan, they need to respect our rights.”
Glick said he blamed government capitulation to Arab threats for the increasingly prohibitive hours for Jews.
“They don’t have the guts to make the decision that Jews have rights in Israel,” he said.
Ephraim Kurer, a 19-year-old Jerusalem yeshiva student, expressed exasperation regarding the heightened restrictions.
“Har habayit [the Temple Mount] is the holiest place on Earth for the Jewish religion,” he said. “The third Temple is supposed to be built here. This is the only place Jews are commanded to go to.”
Kurer said his frustrations were compounded by the restrictions against open Jewish prayer when Jews are granted passage.
“If you’re caught praying there you are arrested,” he said. “And now, in the past few weeks because of Ramadan, the only gate we can use has been closed.”
Non-Muslims are prevented from praying at the site out of concern that it could inflame tensions with Muslim worshipers. Indeed, police have issued numerous bans against individuals found to be praying at the Temple Mount.
“We’re here to say we’re fed up!” Kurer added.
“I believe Jews should have the right to pray at the Temple Mount,” said Mordechai Goldberg, an accountant from Jerusalem.
“Normally Jews are allowed to go up but not allowed to pray, which is outrageous,” he said.
“But during Ramadan they won’t even let us go up, which is giving in to Arab aggression.”
Goldberg added that Jews had been denied religious freedom in a country that promotes pluralism.
“This country prides itself on religious freedom – except for Jews,” he complained. “They forbid us from bringing up Jewish ritual objects or even opening our mouths to pray. People have been arrested just for moving their lips, and not even praying!” Elisha, a 29-year-old tour guide who requested that his last name not be used, said the present impasse contradicted the Torah.
“The Torah says: ‘From my house will be a house of prayer for all nations,’” Elisha said.
“The fulfillment of Jewish expression happens on the other side of this wall,” he continued, pointing to the Western Wall. “What do God and Jews want for themselves? It’s on the other side of that wall, and we’re so close.”
Dor Shallev, a 24-year-old engineering student at Bar-Ilan University, said the restrictive hours had been a source of “pain” for him.
“I’m here because the situation at the Temple Mount brings me a lot of pain. It’s the most holy place for the Jewish people and we can barely go there,” he said. “Now, the situation is that if I want to pray at the Temple Mount, I can’t – if I want to visit the Temple Mount, I can’t.”
Shallev said he believed that by closing the gate to Jews, a fearful government was giving in to Arab pressure.
“The government is afraid of the response of the Arab world because they get a lot of pressure.
The point is, Jews are praying at the [Western] Wall while the center of the Jewish nation is up there,” he said, indicating the Temple Mount. “Whoever rules the Temple Mount rules the Land of Israel. It’s not just a sentence, it’s true.”
Shallev contended that Jews were largely forbidden from entering the Temple Mount because of fear among Arabs of Jewish sovereignty over the site.
“They know the minute we rule the Temple Mount we are back to Zion, and they’re scared.
The moment they see Jews are back after 2,000 years, their whole belief will be shaken because the essence of their belief is that they replaced the Jews,” he explained.
“You can’t have Zionism without Zion,” he said.
Deena Sattler, who made aliya from New York and resides in Jerusalem, said the situation made Jews feel like “second class citizens in their own country.”
She echoed sentiments that the incongruity of rights among Arabs and Jews was based on threats of Arab violence.
“Every time the Arabs want something they threaten violence and the police capitulate,” Sattler said. “I think the government is testing us to see how important this is for us.”
She described the situation as a form of overt racism that would not be tolerated in another nation.
“If this was any other country in the world there would be screams of anti-Semitism. We want equal rights but we’re not getting them because we’re Jews,” she said. “The government is bending over backwards to appease the Arabs to keep things quiet at the expense of Jews who feel the need to go up to har habayit on a regular basis.”
Rabbi Chaim Richman, international director of the Temple Institute and a participant in the protest, released a statement shortly after it concluded.
“Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Elul... a very special time focused on fixing our relationship with the Almighty. The one place where that relationship is manifest is the place of the Holy Temple,” Richman said. “Ironically, this is the one place where Jews are currently prohibited from entering.”
Noting that the primary theme of Elul was repentance, Richman said it would be appropriate to repent for the “erosion of Jewish sovereignty.”
“On a national level we need to repent for the terrible collective sin of disdain that we show for the Temple Mount,” he said, “and [for] the erosion of Jewish sovereignty at our only holy place."