This past January 3rd, Israel’s new Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, paid a brief early morning visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. It should have been non-controversial. But his visit was seized upon by Israel bashers as a violation of the so-called “status quo,” an arrangement that has come to be interpreted as prohibiting Jews and other non-Muslims from praying in any manner anywhere at what the Muslim world calls al-Haram al-Sharif. Even silent prayer is covered by this prohibition.
Minister Gvir visited the Temple Mount to pay his respects to its sacred history and, in his new role as Minister of National Security, to likely assess security conditions there. But he did not pray during his short visit to the Temple Mount. Minister Gvir did not set foot in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits at the southern end of the Temple Mount. He did not enter any other Muslim mosque or shrine while on the Temple Mount.
Even under the strictest interpretation of the “status quo” prohibiting all worship by Jews and other non-Muslims anywhere on the Temple Mount, Jews are permitted to visit their holiest site at specified times. Minister Gvir’s visit on this occasion complied with all “status quo” protocols.
However, the usual suspects wasted no time throwing their rhetorical bombs at Israel.
Palestinian leaders and their enablers used the visit to spread poisonous lies with outlandish claims that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was invaded. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh claimed that Minister Gvir’s visit was among the “incursions” that attempt “to turn the Al-Aqsa Mosque into a Jewish temple.”
A total fabrication meant to stir up anger in Palestinians bent on violence.
Indeed, the Palestinians are the ones who have shattered the “status quo” by using the mosques located on the Temple Mount to store weapons and stones for attacks against Jews. They worship violence.
Jordanian authorities, whose Waqf administers the religious activities that take place on the Temple Mount compound, have egged the Palestinians on.
“Jordan condemns in the severest of terms the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and violation of its sanctity,” the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement following Minister Gvir’s visit.
There was no “storming” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, nor a “storming” of anything else on the Temple Mount during Minister Gvir’s visit. There was no “violation” of the mosque’s “sanctity.”
Islamists want to erase the entire history of the Jewish people’s connection to their holiest site – an enduring connection which preceded the founding of Islam by well more than a millennium. Historical denialism, virulent anti-Semitism, and Islamic supremacy are what trigger the lies and incitements to violence coming out of the mouths of Palestinian and Jordanian leaders.
Shamefully, the Biden administration failed to stick up for America’s close ally Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East. Instead, it raised concerns that Minister Gvir’s visit jeopardized the oft-cited “status quo” at the Temple Mount, which it did not.
Ned Price, the U.S. State Department spokesman, told reporters following Minister Gvir’s visit, “The United States stands firmly for preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem. We oppose any unilateral actions that undercut the historic status quo. They are unacceptable. The President has previously underscored the need to preserve that historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, as has the Secretary.”
It is telling that Mr. Price, speaking on behalf of the Biden administration, chose to put Haram al-Sharif in front of Temple Mount when referring to the site.
The truth is that Israel’s successive governments have largely maintained the strict interpretation of the “status quo” arrangement that precludes Jews from praying on the Temple Mount. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has returned to office with his new right-leaning coalition government including Minister Gvir, “is committed to strictly maintaining the status quo,” according to a statement issued by his office.
Israeli officials have strived to avoid religious conflict over the Temple Mount ever since Israel freed Old Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, from Jordan’s control in the June 1967 Six-Day War. Thus, Jordan’s Waqf maintains authority over the religious activities that take place on the Temple Mount compound while Israel maintains authority over the compound’s security.
In 1994, Israel and Jordan entered into a peace treaty formally specifying that Israel “respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem.” However, the treaty also commits Jordan and Israel to providing “freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance” and “working towards…freedom of religious worship, and tolerance and peace.” That is not what has happened.
Jordan has not honored the parts of its treaty with Israel that call for “freedom of access to religious and historical significance” and for “freedom of religious worship.” Instead, Jordan’s Waqf has created on the Temple Mount grounds what amounts to an Islamist occupied territory. Jordan’s Waqf has imposed severe restrictions on Jews’ access to their holiest site and have strictly forbidden the worship of any religion other than Islam. Jews cannot even recite silent prayers to themselves.
Islamic supremacy at Judaism’s holiest site has become a central part of the definition of the “status quo” that the Biden administration and much of the rest of the world so strongly defend. Even when Israeli officials have worked hard to prevent Jews from praying at all on the Temple Mount to avoid religious strife and to limit visits by Jews and other non-Muslims, it is not enough.
Thus, we have seen all the incredible fuss over Minister Gvir’s short January 3rd visit to the Temple Mount, even though it involved no prayers. An inconsequential visit has been blown way out of proportion to feed the propaganda machine of the Palestinians, Jordan, and their enablers.
Too many in the world today are complicit in the lies and incitements to violence or simply serve as the Islamists’ useful idiots.
Not surprisingly, the United Nations regularly gives the anti-Semites who hate Israel a global platform to spread their lies about the holiest site in Judaism, which the UN refers to only by its Arabic name, al-Haram al-Sharif.
On January 5th, two days after Minister Gvir’s harmless visit to the Temple Mount, the UN Security Council met in emergency session to excoriate the visit. The Biden administration eagerly joined in.
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Khiari told the Security Council that Minister Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount was “inflammatory” and spoke out “against any changes to the status quo at the Holy Sites.”
UN bureaucrats need to brush up on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which turns 75 years old in 2023. Article 18 states as follows:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Exercising the basic human right of all people to manifest their religion by visits in observance of sites holy to them and their history is anything but inflammatory. Minister Gvir did only that on January 3rd. Whether he or other Jews decide to exercise their basic human right to freely worship at their holiest site is a matter for another day.
Incitement to violence by Palestinian leaders and their enablers over a nothing burger takes “inflammatory” to the extreme. Palestinian terrorists have repeatedly turned the Temple Mount and its surrounding area in Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Western Wall, into a conflict zone and have threatened to do so again. Instead of blaming the terrorists who commit the violent acts and the Palestinian leaders who incite them, UN officials regularly blame Israel.
The Palestinian representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour, fanned the flames in his remarks to the Security Council. He claimed that Israel has “no right over Haram al-Sharif” – i.e., to any part of the Temple Mount – and warned that the site could become the “epicenter of religious conflict.”
The Biden administration did not stand up for Israel. Instead, U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Robert A. Wood, latched onto the “status quo” mantra. He told the Security Council that the United States “firmly supports the preservation of the historical status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem, especially on the Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount.”
Israel’s UN Ambassador, Gilad Erdan, brought some sanity to the Security Council proceedings.
“Minister Ben Gvir’s recent visit to the Temple Mount was not an incursion into al-Aqsa or any other fabrication that the Palestinians branded his visit as,” Ambassador Erdan said. “Minister Ben Gvir’s visit was in line with the status quo and whoever claims otherwise is only enflaming the situation,” he declared.
“While the Temple Mount is sadly not yet a house of prayer for all nations, it is still the right of every Jew – no matter what title they hold – to at least, at least visit this holiest of holy spots. Jews will continue visiting the Temple Mount and whoever believes in tolerance and coexistence, should support that.”
Only thirty to forty thousand Jews actually visit the Temple Mount each year on average, according to Ambassador Erdan. “They are permitted to do so from only one specific entrance, on specific days, at limited hours, in small groups, and under heavy security detail,” he said. “Meanwhile, every year, millions upon millions of Muslims come to visit and pray at the site, while Israel ensure their safety and protection.”
But the Islamists can never be satisfied until the Temple Mount is purged entirely of all Jewish presence. “Rather than protecting the sanctity of the site,” Ambassador Erdan said, “the Palestinians have turned the Temple Mount into a battleground.”
And they are threatening to do so yet again.