New police minister Ben Gvir gears up for Temple Mount visit, possibly this week

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir intends to enter Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount soon for the first time since entering his cabinet role last week, the far-right leader said Sunday evening, raising fears of a potential violent Palestinian reaction.

Ben Gvir’s office has informed police that he wished to visit on Tuesday — the 10th of Tevet, a Jewish fast day mourning the events that led to the destruction of the Temple that once stood in the holy site — or on Wednesday, the Kan public broadcaster reported, citing a source involved in the matter, adding that the timing was subject to change.

The Temple Mount is believed by Jews to be the historic location of the two Jewish Temples, making it Judaism’s holiest site. It is also the third holiest for Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Noble Sanctuary.

Following the report, Ben Gvir, a long-time advocate for Jewish prayer rights at the site, confirmed in a tweet that he intended to visit the Temple Mount, but did not specify a date.

“I thank the media for taking an interest in the issue of visits to the Temple Mount,” Ben Gvir wrote in response to the report. “Indeed, the Temple Mount is an important topic, and as I said, I intend to visit the Temple Mount,” he added.

“As for the timetable — I promise to let you know when I do visit. I would be delighted if every evening’s newscasts would begin with reports dealing with the question of when I intend to visit the Temple Mount,” Ben Gvir said.

The highest echelons of police were set to deliberate the request on Monday, including Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, Kan reported.

Incoming National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (left) meets with Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, on January 1, 2023 (Public Security Ministry)

The network noted that the very fact that news of the request had leaked could mean the visit would be pushed off in order to avert Palestinian unrest.

Ben Gvir has long been an advocate of altering the Temple Mount status quo, in which Muslims are allowed to pray and enter with few restrictions, while Jews can only visit during limited time slots via a single gate, and walking on a predetermined route, closely accompanied by police, who prevented Jewish prayer and bringing in Israel flags and Jewish religious items. Palestinians and most of the international community vehemently reject any changes to the current situation, although most Palestinians also object to any Israeli Jewish presence at the site, including police officers tasked with preserving security.

Ben Gvir held a handover ceremony with his predecessor Sunday. The Israel Police sets day-to-day policies at the Temple Mount, potentially giving Ben Gvir significant sway over arrangements at the flashpoint site.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to assure Israel’s allies that he will not allow any changes, and he had a clause included in all of his coalition deals stipulating that the status quo “with regard to the holy places” will be preserved.

However, critics point to what they say has been the gradual erosion of the policy, with Orthodox Jewish pilgrims often seen praying quietly at the site in recent years as Israeli police look on.

In response to the report, Hamas official Harun Nasser al-Din said in a statement that the terror group will “hold the occupying government responsible for any escalation if there is harm to Al-Aqsa, or to our people defending Jerusalem.”

“We call on our people to protect Al-Aqsa, and we are sure that our people will sabotage any attempt to enforce a new reality at Al-Aqsa.”

Israeli security forces escort a group of religious Jews as they visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 31, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

In an interview on Wednesday, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned the new Israeli government not to cross Jordan’s “red lines” with regard to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

The Temple Mount is believed by Jews to be the historic location of the two Jewish Temples, making it Judaism’s holiest place. It houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount. Under their 1994 peace treaty, Israel recognized Amman’s “special role… in Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.”

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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