Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City early on Tuesday morning. It was his first visit to Judaism’s holiest site since assuming his post last week.
“Our government will not surrender to threats from Hamas,” said Ben-Gvir in reference to the Palestinian terrorist group, which had vowed to “not stand idly by” and instead “ignite the region” if the minister visited the site in Israel’s capital.
“The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel,” Ben-Gvir noted during his visit, adding: “We maintain the freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews also go up to the site, and those who make threats must be dealt with with an iron fist.”
Ben-Gvir met on Monday night with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following which reports surfaced that the prospective Temple Mount visit would be delayed, if not altogether nixed.
Netanyahu’s Likud Party denied that the prime minister had intervened and requested that Ben-Gvir postpone the visit.
High-ranking members of the Israel Police, including Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, had earlier in the day reportedly discussed the national security minister’s intention to ascend the holy site.
Hamas responded on Tuesday, saying in a statement that “the crime of the fascist Zionist minister Ben-Gvir in invading the Al Aqsa Mosque is a continuation of the aggression of the occupation against the holy places. Al Aqsa Mosque was and will remain Palestinian, Arab and Islamic, and no fascist person can change this fact.”
The Palestinian people “will continue to defend the holy places… and cleanse them of the filth of the occupation. This campaign will not stop until the final victory of our people and the expulsion of the conqueror from all our land,” the statement continued.
The Palestinian Authority also condemned the visit, describing it as an “unprecedented provocation.”
“Netanyahu bears responsibility for this attack on Al Aqsa [Mosque],” the P.A. Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The previous day, Ramallah had said that changes by Israel to the status quo at the Temple Mount would be a “declaration of war with serious consequences for everyone.”
Similarly, Jordan on Tuesday denounced Ben-Gvir “in the severest of terms [for] the storming of the Al Aqsa Mosque and violation of its sanctity.”
The Israeli minister did not enter the mosque or approach it.
Jordanian King Abdullah II last week said he was ready for a conflict should Israel’s new government violate “red lines” by changing the dynamics governing relations at Jerusalem’s holy sites.
“We have to be concerned about [the] next intifada [Palestinian terror war],” Abdullah said in an interview with CNN, adding: “If that happens, that’s a complete breakdown of law and order and one that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will benefit from. I think there is a lot of concern from all of us in the region, including those in Israel that are on our side on this issue, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Jordan has since 1967 been the custodian of holy sites in the Israeli capital, including the Al Aqsa Mosque that sits atop the Temple Mount.
Former Israeli premier and current opposition leader Yair Lapid on Monday warned against Ben-Gvir’s proposed visit, saying he “must not go up to Temple Mount. It is a deliberate provocation that will put lives in danger and cost lives. As weak as Netanyahu is, he must, at least this time, stand up and tell him, ‘You are not going to the Temple Mount.’ People will die.”
A longtime advocate for Jews being allowed to freely visit and pray at their holiest site, Ben-Gvir vowed on the campaign trail to change the status quo preventing them from doing both.
Currently, Jews can only ascend the Mount during short windows of time, and are prohibited from worshiping so as to not upset Muslims, who regularly riot at the site.
Ahead of its inauguration last Thursday, Israel’s new government published a list of policy guidelines that includes a desire to “preserve the Jewish character of the state and the heritage of Israel,” while “respecting the practices and traditions of members of all religions in the country in accordance with the values of the Declaration of Independence.”
Ben-Gvir’s visit comes on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, a fast day commemorating the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia—an event that culminated in the destruction of the First Temple and the downfall of the Kingdom of Judah.