Need for Vigilance on Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Advance of Passover

In lead-up to the Pesach holiday, several coalescing trends signal deterioration in the tenuous calm on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and call for heightened vigilance at the holy site.  Pesach is one of the major festival periods that serve as a lightning rod for increased actions by Temple Movement activists – radical Jewish activists strenuously promoting overturning of the status quo.  Events over the last several weeks demonstrate cause for concern:

  • During the week of March 27, tension between Waqf employees and the Israel Antiquities Authorities escalated, with physical altercations warranting police intervention.  At least eleven Waqf employees were arrested for allegedly harassing Jewish visitors and officials.
  • On March 14, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin announced the intention to create a two-million shekel government fund for Temple Mount heritage to promote Jewish ties to the Mount.
  • On March 15, MKs Yehuda Glick (Likud) and Shuli Mualem (Jewish Home) presided over launch of a Knesset caucus, “Strengthening the Jewish Connection to the Temple Mount”.  Participants included Likud MKs Yoav Kish and Amir Ohana, and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), along with extremist members of the Temple movements.  Knesset members advanced three immediate objectives: expanding visiting hours for Jews; inducing more permissive behavior toward Jewish visitors from the police; and promoting the importance of the Temple Mount, where the Jewish Temple stood, within the school system. Rabbi Menachem Makover, representing the more radical elements in attendance, declared: “We need to prepare and publicly speak about the building of the Temple. This will proceed in small steps: we should set up an altar at the Temple Mount. That is part of our freedom of worship.”
  • Moving to obtain a decision prior to Pesach, on March 28 Likud Minister Yehuda Glick petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the standing ban on MKs ascending the Mount and to instruct the Israeli Police, the chair of the Knesset and the Knesset Ethics Committee to “refrain from prohibiting MKs in their exercise of freedom of movement and worship on the Temple Mount.”
  • In parallel, Prime Minister Netanyahu, contradicting standing agreements with Jordan and the US, announced that he would rescind the ban after the culmination of Ramadan. 

In 2013 and 2014, visits and incendiary statements from prominent former MKs such as Uri Ariel and Moshe Feiglin played a key role in inflaming tensions at the holy site.  Miri Regev, in her former role as head of the Knesset Interior Committee, oversaw 16 sessions on security at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, hosting a platform for Temple activists to vocally criticize the judgment of security forces responsible for overseeing the site and ultimately contributing to their implementation of collective restrictions on Muslim access to the esplanade. 

  • Temple movement activists requested a license from the Police to hold the Pesach lamb sacrifice in the Davidson archeological park, adjacent to the Temple Mount. Police refused the request, instead authorizing the ceremony to be held in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Temple activists hailed the decision as a precedent in granting clearance to conduct the sacrifice in close proximity to the Temple Mount.  
  • There has been an estimated 20% increase in the number of Jewish visitors from Rosh Hashanah until today, compared with the same period last year. The number of Jewish visitors in the month of Adar (Feb 27 – March 27), when Purim is observed, jumped 30% this year, from 870 to 1,140.  While categorically not a problem and in line with the status quo, increasing numbers of Jewish visitors add pressure to the current situation.

Given the constellation of major events during April/May, beginning with the start of Pesach on Monday night and moving to Yom Yerushalayim (May 24) and Ramadan (set to begin on May 25), extreme vigilance is warranted.  In light of these events, Ir Amim reissues its general recommendations from the 2016 policy paper, “Keeping the Peace on the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif During the Jewish High Holiday Period”:

  1. The Israel Police should continue to refrain from imposing collective entry restrictions on Muslim worshippers.  It is also important that decision makers make clear to the Israeli public that maintaining Muslim freedom of worship on the site is a basic component of the status quo as well as being essential to the prevention of violence and the effectiveness of Police operations.
  2. As he has in the past, the prime minister should publicly instruct members of his government, coalition, and party not to provide support for the Temple movements either through declaration or action. Given the public responsibility borne by the members of his coalition, the prime minister is entitled to use sanctions against any members who ignore his instructions.
  3. The Israeli government should be careful to ensure coordination with Jordan regarding site visits. Coordinated arrangement of all activities, including simultaneous entry of multiple groups and permission for earlier entrance times, should be made in advance of such visits. Defining clear procedures by Israel and Jordan (and the Waqf) will prevent an exacerbation of tensions on the ground and will also inhibit the creation of situations in which Israel subsequently retracts decisions, thereby indicating that it has submitted to pressure groups on either side. All procedures should provide for pre-emptive coordination to contain developing tensions should they arise.
  4. Decision makers should support ongoing and respectful coordination between the Police and the Waqf.
  5. The Israeli government should immediately terminate its financial and political support of the Temple movements. The government’s commitment to the status quo – and even more so to the integrity of the mosques – is incompatible with governmental support for these bodies.
  6. Public figures and religious leaders on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, should become increasingly involved in cultivating religious and public discussion within and between the communities to encourage interfaith dialogue and tolerance.