One 16-year-old Jewish activist was arrested for praying on the Temple Mount Wednesday, one day after several people were injured in a scuffle as police prevented a group of Jewish activists from reaching the holy site on Yom HaAtzma’ut afternoon.
Police said the youth, who was not named because he is a minor, muttered “prayer-like” sentences under his breath as he toured the permitter of the compound.
The arrest came as police and Jordanian Waqf officials took pains to maintain order at the holy site following a month of tension and rioting at the site. Police officers, dressed in full riot gear, escorted two Jewish groups around the compound, trailed closely by employees of the Waqf. Both guards stressed the rules of the visit: No bowing, no praying, no ripping of clothes (a traditional Jewish sign of mourning for the Beit Hamikdash).
Still, the experience of visiting the Temple Mount with a kippa is a tense one. Groups of Arab picnickers routinely harass Jewish visitors with cries of “Allah Hu Akhbar” (God is great). Jewish guides at the site say the shouts at passing Jews are a new phenomenon, funded by Hamas.
To contrast, non-Jewish tourists are permitted to move around the compound freely. In addition, police appear to maintain separate rules governing entrance to the Temple Mount complex: This reporter was at the Mughrabi Gate, the only gate approved for non-Muslims to enter the compound, for moderate questioning and multiple rounds of background checks. At the same time, two groups of tall, blond, obviously non-Jewish tourists were allowed to enter the site, unaccompanied and with nothing more than a cursory security check.
At the north-east corner of the Mount, near the Tribes Gate (used by IDF forces to capture the site on Iyyar 27, 1967), a group of children from the Umriyya School play soccer. Israel’s High Court of Justice has prohibited sport games on the Mount in deference to the holy site, but neither Jewish or Arab officials move to stop the game.
Numbers ‘Going up’
According to Rabbi Yehuda Glick, founder of the Haliba organization for Jewish Freedom on the Temple Mount, police have discriminated for years against religious Jews trying to visit the Temple Mount. Glick, a professional tour guide, said Israeli courts have ordered police to pay NIS 30,000 in damages for lost wages for their repeated refusal to allow Glick on the Mount (he stressed that the fine has yet to be paid).
But he added that not all is bleak for Jews at the Mount. Since he began visiting the site in 1989, Glick said Jewish approaches to Har Habayit have changed – mostly for the better.
“Once upon a time, Jews visited Har Habayit in pairs, no more. Now, we routinely have groups of 25 or more. The Waqf isn’t happy about it, but Jerusalem police made a decision to allow more Jews to visit. As a result, you see that the numbers of Jewish visitors to the Mount have skyrocketed, from a very small number in 1989 to more than 20,000 in 2013,” Glick told The Jewish Press.
“So you see? The police can make a decision that goes against the Waqf’s desires when it wants to,” Glick added.
Another significant factor in the growing Jewish interest in the Temple Mount is the fact that until recent years, virtually all rabbis supported the traditional rabbinic ban on entering the Temple Mount for fear of walking on the spot where the Holy of Holies once stood. A generation ago, few halachic authorities apart from Meir Kahane and Rav Yisrael Ariel approved Jewish visits to the site.