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Israeli security personnel escort a group of Jews on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Jan. 18, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Israeli security personnel escort a group of Jews on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Jan. 18, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

Activist calls to end discrimination against Jews on Temple Mount

Tom Nisani of Beyadenu—Returning to the Temple Mount speaks with JNS about “returning the holy site to the entire people of Israel.”

Tom Nisani is the executive director of Beyadenu—Returning to the Temple Mount, an organization that focuses on promoting Jewish presence at the holy site in Jerusalem and educating the Israeli public on the issue. He served for 10 years in Unit 8200, IDF Military Intelligence’s Central Collection Unit.

Nisani’s involvement with the Temple Mount began as a student at the Hebrew University when he started organizing group visits to the site. This eventually led to the creation of Beyadenu, which has since grown to offer tours and educational programs and to advocate for change through lobbying efforts in the Knesset.

The organization’s goal “is to connect the people of Israel to the Temple Mount and bring about a change in the situation, to correct the discrimination and return the Temple Mount to the entire people of Israel.”

Nisani’s activism at the Temple Mount has led to several incidents with law enforcement, including arrests. Despite this, he continues to advocate for Jewish rights on the Mount and to promote the cultural significance of the site.

Tom Nisani sat down for an interview with JNS.

JNS: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

Tom Nisani: I was born in the Jezreel Valley in the North, in a moshav called Tel Adashim. After that, we moved to the city of Afula and after that, we moved to a nearby settlement, a small one. I was raised in a Zionist home, not a religious one, with, let’s say, a light connection to religion. My mom actually lived in a lightly religious home, and my father was raised in a kibbutz, so definitely not a religious house.

I served in the army for 10 years, in a unit called 8200, the [signals] intelligence unit of the IDF. Meanwhile, I also studied for two years in Jerusalem. It was there that I discovered the Temple Mount. This happened by accident because I was not very connected, but I somehow found myself up there and discovered the whole issue. From then I started to be active with regard to the Temple Mount. Today I have an official NGO that promotes the issue.

JNS: It’s interesting that you mentioned that you’re not really religious, because most people associate the Temple Mount with a religious issue. You seem to view it as a Zionist issue. Why is that?

Nisani: Today I don’t really see it as exclusively a Zionist issue, I see it as a national and religious issue. I wasn’t really raised religiously. I still don’t wear any kippa and I even drive my car on Shabbat, but now I understand the connection. You cannot separate the national and the religious in Israel at all, especially not on the Temple Mount. In my eyes, it’s both national and religious. They go together. I always say I will probably not be the rabbi who teaches the Jews how to enter the Temple Mount correctly and how exactly to practice the holidays when there will be a Temple. Still, I’m a proud Jew and this is part of my identity, to be also Zionist and nationalist and to be connected to my religion.

JNS: There are a lot of Jews now that are going up to the Temple Mount or increasingly so, using at least the figures that you provided for 2022 showing an increase over 2021 and 2020. However, there’s a big step between going up to the Temple Mount and dedicating as much time as you do to the cause. Is there something that happened? When did you decide that this is something that you really want to invest in?

Nisani: That’s a good question. Actually, I never really decided to do so. I spent some four or five years volunteering when I was off base during my army service. Between Thursday and Sunday, I just did as much as I could. I never really decided to do it, but I always say that it was God who guided me to do so. I guess because I was just going up on the Mount as many other people go up. I even didn’t go with someone who was connected to the Mount. No one really instructed me or explained to me what this place is. Somehow my feelings were too emotional, too big and too powerful, and that brought me inside this issue. I think that I saw that no one really cares about the Temple Mount. No one really deals with it. Everyone is afraid because of the police and criticism from the media, and everyone is judging you if you go to the Temple Mount. If you do that then you’re probably some dangerous guy or a provocateur. It’s easy to step away. But I did the opposite. Probably because it was God’s will.

JNS: You mentioned problems with the police and being considered a provocateur. You’ve been arrested a couple of times, from what I understand. Is it a problem for you to get up to the Temple Mount and what’s your relationship with the police?

Nisani: Yeah, actually I just received a notification from the Ministry of National Security that says that I cannot have a gun for my self-defense because I was arrested many times. This is definitely affecting my life. I have no gun for self-defense, and I’ve been living in Samaria for seven or eight years since I was first arrested. This is political persecution because I was never arrested for any violence or terrorist attack or anything of that kind. Everyone who wants to change the issue on the Temple Mount by actions, and not only by thought, is a target for the police and for the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency]. I know this, unfortunately, because I’m a citizen who served the state for half of my life and I continue to do so. I am really patriotic and I think that it’s my obligation to fight for the Temple Mount because this is our most important site. We cannot lose it because we’re afraid of some policemen or I don’t know what.

JNS: Obviously, there was a new Israeli government inaugurated just recently. Itamar Ben-Gvir, who’s the national security minister, recently caused a firestorm by going up to the Temple Mount. Do you think things will change under the new government in Jerusalem?

Nisani: I still hope so but it was [recently] published that Netanyahu visited King Abdullah [in Jordan] and promised him not to make any changes [on the Mount]. I’m not sure if it was very much published in English media, but he said it with his own mouth. It is even videotaped. He says, “I promised King Abdullah that nothing will change.” On the same day, reporters asked Ben-Gvir about changes on the Mount, and he said something like, “I wish, but I’m not the one who decides.”

Probably we will see more of the same. We will not accept this because visiting or going up to the Mount is not enough; we have to get much more. We are not demanding something that is unreasonable. I’m not asking for special treatment, quite the opposite. I’m asking for the basics of getting my rights like every other citizen in Israel, including Arabs, by the way, who can go to the Temple Mount even from Gaza. We’re allowing Palestinians to go up to the Mount, so how come we can’t? This is just unacceptable and we will not accept it. We don’t have many friends in the government who want to help. Of course, the prime minister is Netanyahu and so far he is opposed to changes. We may see that there will be a slight improvement in the future.

JNS: Just to clarify, what exactly do you view as equitable in terms of Jewish access? Jewish prayer? What do you envision? What’s the goal of Beyadenu?

Nisani: Yeah, actually before our meeting I made a big list of all of our goals for the members of Knesset due to the changes in the new government. Well, we have plenty of things to improve. There is the little issue of the Temple Mount not having any signs marking the entrance. I go every day and I meet tourists who don’t know where the entrance to the Temple Mount is. They are just getting lost and cannot find it because Israel is hiding this from Israelis and from tourists because they would prefer for everyone to go to the Western Wall and not to go to the Muslim site as they see it.

There are plenty of issues, including expanding the visitation hours. Today it’s only four hours per day [for non-Muslims]. Most of the people who want to go to the Temple Mount cannot do it. If the Temple Mount would be open you will see half a million Jews going up every year, I have no doubt. They just can’t.

Another issue is the fact that no Israeli student is learning about the Temple Mount. There are no studies about the Temple Mount in the Israeli education system. You see how the world and UNESCO treat the Temple Mount and we have no answer for that because we just don’t know our own heritage. It’s a very big list and we are working every day to explain and convince the ministers to change and support this agenda.

JNS: Finally, it seems to me that you’ve characterized the issue of the Temple Mount as a defining issue in terms of Israel’s rebirth and as a microcosm of the Jewish longing for sovereignty. Do we have to achieve basic rights here in order for us to really put a stamp on our peoplehood?

Nisani: That is correct. We sing in our national anthem that we want to be an “Am chofshi be’artzeinu,” a free nation in our land. We cannot say this while Jews who are going up to the Temple Mount with the Israeli flag or singing the national anthem are getting arrested because we’re afraid of King Abdullah or the U.S. government. We cannot really sing it because we are not free. We are still acting like someone is trying to kill us. Of course, they are trying to kill us, but now we have our own state and we are strong. We should not accept it anymore. Of course, I think that a big part of us being Jews in Israel is lost because we don’t have the Temple Mount.

The Western Wall is not a real sign of freedom, or of Jews being really free and having prosperity. The Western Wall is a sign of us crying while we’re trying to pray. It’s almost the Temple Mount but it is not the Temple Mount. It’s like living near the Land of Israel and not getting inside. This is like Moses who saw the Promised Land and did not manage to get inside. We are close but we will not have peace and we will not have real Judaism without freeing the Temple Mount. That’s how I see it.

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