by Abe Selig
MK calls for ‘complete religious freedom' at holy site
Decrying the "severe restrictions" facing religious Jews who attempt to ascend the Temple Mount, MK Danny Danon (Likud) called Tuesday for "complete religious freedom" atop the incendiary holy site, before going up to the mount himself to mark Tisha Be'av.
Flanked by a large security apparatus provided by the Jerusalem Police, Danon ascended to the site to mark the day on which the destruction of the First and Second Temples occurred, and to voice his concerns about the current state of access to the Temple Mount for Jews who wish to visit it for religious reasons.
"Jews wearing kippot – religious Jews – who wish to go up to the Temple Mount can only do so in groups of 10 or 15 people at a time, while Muslim worshipers are allowed free and total access to the site by the thousands," Danon said.
"This current situation cannot be allowed to continue," he added. "This place does not belong to the Wakf [the Islamic trust that oversees the administration of Muslim sites on the Temple Mount] it belongs to the people of Israel."
After returning from his nearly hour-long tour of the site, Danon, who said the visit had been "very emotional," told reporters that in addition to his police escort atop the mount, his entourage had been followed by Wakf officials and photographers.
"They watched and recorded everything we did," Danon said.
In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post earlier on Tuesday, Danon had said that he saw "no more fitting day" than Tisha Be'av for a trip to the holy site.
"This is the day in which the Jewish people mourn the destruction of the two temples that once stood upon that site," Danon said. "And I can think of no better time than today to go there and commemorate this mourning."
Danon added that he planned on taking up the matter of religious freedom at the site with Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch in the coming days.
"I will meet with MK Aharonovitch in an effort to find different ways to approach the current situation," Danon said.
"In my opinion, my trip there today is an important step for advancing this issue, and I plan to continue to work on it."
Some two hours before Danon arrived at the site, three Jewish protesters were detained by police after they attempted to "cause a provocation" during a small rally that was held near the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Temple Mount.
The protesters, many of whom were from a group called Free the Temple Mount had arrived at the site to both mark Tisha Be'av and call for "free and complete access for Jews to the Temple Mount."
Police reported no further disruptions at the Western Wall plaza or throughout the Old City on Tuesday, as thousands of people ignored the summer heat and arrived at the Kotel and its surroundings for prayers and quiet reflection.
In the afternoon, dozens of men could be seen sitting on the floor or on low stools next to the Western Wall, reading Kinnot, liturgical poems, composed in memory of the Temples' destruction.
MK Danon's visit to the site sparked somewhat of a flurry, and dozens of worshipers and passersby flocked to the crowd of reporters and photographers to see what the commotion was about.
But minutes after Danon and his entourage had left the area, the solemn tone of the day – on which observant Jews fast and refrain from outward signs of enjoyment – had returned to the Western Wall area.
"We're waiting for Moshiah [the Messiah]," an elderly, bearded man said, as he walked slowly across the plaza's bright, hot stones. "And the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash [Holy Temple], may it come speedily and within our days."