It was the driest of headlines, betraying nothing of the dramatic and even historic significance of the events it heralded. “Police forces operating on the Temple Mount,” read the ticker late Saturday night. The news brief below it gave just a tiny bit more detail, adding that the police were moving Muslim worshippers out of the Temple Mount area.
What was really going on?
A representative of the Temple Mount Movement’s Joint Task Force was able to provide the full story.
Generally, Muslim worshippers on the Temple Mount—our holiest site, the Holy of Holies of the two ancient Temples—pack up around sunset and go home for the night. But that’s not what happened this time. Hundreds of Muslims, led by a band of stocking-masked men, decided to hole up in the holy compound. Planning to riot and throw firebombs the next morning, they would thus prevent the normal opening of the Mount and deter tourists and Jewish visitors.
This, of course, is the ultimate goal of these terrorists: to detach the Jewish people from the source of their national strength and history. Funded and led by radical Islamist elements, they have attacked tourists on various occasions, as well as the police, with rocks, fireworks, iron rods and even firebombs.
Not that this past Saturday night was the only time they ever tried this trick. Several years ago it was a fairly commonplace event, but once Gilad Erdan became Israel’s Public Security Minister, in 2015, the police learned to put a quick end to these schemes.
In this case, too (and on Sunday night as well) police responded quickly and firmly. Within minutes, the entire Temple Mount was emptied out, with no incidents.
This was quite a success for the police, the spokesman told us, as they acted smartly and without fanfare or headlines. But they must continue to be on the alert to ensure that things do not get out of hand. Specifically, what most concerns the Temple Mount groups is that the upcoming Jerusalem Day celebrations not be marred.
The number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount for religious reasons has been increasing, or at least remaining steady, for a number of years—and the day on which the most Jews come is Jerusalem Day, the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar (June 2, this year). The day commemorates the liberation of the Old City and the reunification of Jerusalem following the Six-Day War of June 1967.
The Temple Mount groups are currently in the midst of organizing “Project Myriads,” in the framework of which tens of thousands of Jews will, hopefully, ascend to show their solidarity with the holy site. The natural day for such a display, of course, is Jerusalem Day—the day that most symbolizes the deep, intrinsic bonds between the Jewish people and their holy city.
The hope is that the terrorists will not succeed, during this month of Ramadan with its religious/nationalist Muslim fervor, in having the police close the Mount to Jewish visitors on this day. This is a concern specifically this year, when Ramadan coincides with Iyar. Though both Judaism and Islam both follow a lunar cycle, the months of the two calendars do not jibe. This is because Islam does not add a periodic leap month so as to keep up with the solar year. Thus, while Ramadan corresponds to Iyar this year, next year it will parallel Nisan, Adar the year after, and so on.
Another threat the Israel Police have had to face on the holy mount is something called Itikaf—several days, generally during Ramadan, when worshippers do not leave the mosque, and engage only in matters of the spirit. Often, however, the Itikaf intentions are not quite as pure as that. As happened this week, rioters come to the mosque pretending to be practicing Itikaf, but actually spending their time fomenting trouble and preparing attacks.
And yet another “front” in the battle for the Temple Mount is the “Gate of Mercy” (Golden Gate) compound. This past February, a horde of Arabs broke into the area, which had been closed for years by police order, and announced their plans to establish yet another mosque on the Mount.
The Israeli government cannot be said to have acted with determination in removing them. In fact, the area remains open to Muslims even now. However, their plans to build a mosque there appears to have been shelved, while parallel plans by small groups of Jews, including even some well-known rabbis, to reserve the site for a synagogue, also remain on hold.
For its part, Israel’s official policy protects freedom of religion and worship for all faiths. This is in sharp contrast to the way in which Arab Muslim regimes ran these sites when they had control of them. Jordan, for instance, prevented Jews from frequenting their holy sites in the Old City between 1948 and 1967, and even desecrated some of them.
Even now, after Jerusalem’s 1967 reunification and the strange Israeli decision to continue to allow the Islamic Waqf to administer the Temple Mount, Jews and non-Muslims in general suffer from discrimination there. They are permitted to visit the site only at fixed times, which are sometimes arbitrarily changed. Jews in particular are often subjected to particularly harsh rules. No non-Muslim is permitted to pray, however briefly, anywhere on the Temple Mount.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has blatantly incited to violence against Jews on the Mount. “All means must be used to prevent Jews from going up to the [Mount],” he has said. He has also disseminated the lies that no Jewish temples ever existed on the Mount, and that Jews “attack” and “desecrate” the Al-Aqsa mosque.
The battle for Jerusalem and its holy sites thus continues with full force, even if under the radar of most news outlets and consumers. As history marches on before our eyes, let us not stand passively by.
Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz 7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs.