Is Temple Mount calm dependent on restricting Jewish freedom of worship?

After Israeli police arrest men planning Jewish ceremony on Temple Mount, pundits and activists weigh in on the issue.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

After an announcement from a small Jewish group that its activists were intending to perform the biblically mandated slaughter of a lamb on the Temple Mount ahead of the Passover holiday, Israeli police arrested four men who they say were planning to follow through with the ritual.

The arrest on Thursday, just one day before the first night of Passover, comes on the heels of a threat from the Hamas terror group stating that if the men successfully conducted the Jewish ceremony on the Temple Mount, such an act would “cross all red lines” and result in disastrous consequences for Israel.

Another terror group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, released its own statement, declaring that they agreed with Hamas’ response and would not hesitate to use force if the Jewish ritual was performed on the Temple Mount.

“Police will continue to operate in Jerusalem and anywhere else together with all security agencies, 24/7, covertly and overtly, against any person who attempts to violate the order and laws in place at the Temple Mount and the other holy sites in the city,” the police said in a statement.

The preemptive arrest of Jews for behavior that could spark Arab ire appears to reinforce the idea that the onus is on Jews not to provoke, rather than focusing on a powerful and effective response to terror. Such a policy has serious implications for Israel’s national security, some critics say.

Permission to visit Judaism’s holiest site

Chaim Silberstein, founder and chairman of NGO Keep Jerusalem, told World Israel News (WIN) that “the Jewish people have inalienable, historic and legal rights to Jerusalem in general, and the Temple Mount in particular.

“The Hamas terrorist organization’s claim that the Temple Mount is solely a Muslim holy site is historically inaccurate. The Muslim holy sites there were built literally on top of the foundations of two Jewish Holy Temples that existed long before Islam even came into being in 610 CE…

“The Jewish people do not need Muslim permission to ascend to Judaism’s most holy site – especially one belonging to Jews and under Israeli sovereignty.”

Silberstein acknowledged that due to security challenges, Jews should not ascend the Temple Mount without the permission of the authorities.

He emphasized that “Israel must find a way to reassert the Jewish People’s right to freely access their holiest site without succumbing to terrorist threats, while minimizing a potentially inflammatory situation.”

As Muslim groups reject Jewish prayer at the site and object to the very presence of Jews within the compound, freedom of worship for Jews on the Temple Mount, administered by the Muslim Waqf, appears to be a distant dream.

Adding fuel to the fire

Dr. Edy Cohen, a prominent Arab affairs expert, told WIN that the preemptive arrest of those planning to conduct the Jewish ritual on the Temple Mount was the correct action from a security and international relations perspective.

“On this point, I agree with the government. Terrorist organizations are looking for an excuse [to act] and opportunities to make those in the Arab world identify with them,” Cohen said.

A very public Jewish ritual, such as the Passover sacrifice, performed on the Temple Mount “could cause moderates in the Arab world to identify with Hamas.

“Although it is a symbolic action, the implications could be far-reaching, [including] the outbreak of war. Hamas will earn points for allegedly guarding Al-Aqsa [Mosque]. Therefore it is better to avoid” such a scenario, Cohen said.

“The idea of ‘Al Aqsa is in danger’ has been used by terror groups for over one hundred years to heat up the security situation and create chaos and [encourage] the killing of Jews in the streets of Israel,” Maor Tzemach, chair of the NGO Lach Yerushalayim, told WIN.

Although Israel “allows tens of thousands of Muslims, including members of the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizb ut-Tahrir terror groups” to ascend to the Temple Mount and “pray freely with virtually no restrictions,” even the slightest hint of Jewish “infringement” on the site is enough to rile up Israel’s Muslims and the greater Islamic world, he explained.

The reality is that a Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount would “throw fuel on the fire of incitement and terror,” Tzemach said.

“Not that they need a reason for that, but it gives them additional ‘justification’ for their horrible actions.”

Punish the violent, not the ‘provocative’

Tom Nisani, CEO of the Beyadenu organization, is a longtime advocate for Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount. He told WIN that the decision to arrest the men planning the Temple Mount sacrifice falls in line with a consistent pattern by Israeli authorities to punish Jews rather than focus on clamping down on Arab terror.

“In the State of Israel, a game of human and civil rights is being played. The bottom line is that, again, in order to calm and try to appease the Arab side, Jews are always restricted,” Nisani said.

“In a democracy, those who should be restricted are the ones who are violent and threatening.”

In a previous conversation with WIN, Nisani said that this approach towards policing Jewish behavior on the Temple Mount has wide implications both for Israel’s security and its legitimacy as a sovereign state.

“The minute you show up accompanied by police, you’re demonstrating that you’re scared, behaving as though you don’t have a right to be here,” Nisani said. “[Instead] it’s like ‘I’m just coming [for a minute] and leaving [quickly.]’ It’s hallucinatory.”

If Jews need armed guards in order to visit the Temple Mount, Nisani said, there’s no reason that the same shouldn’t be true for the Old City.

“Why not [require armed guards for Jews] on the Mount of Olives, or Lod, or Akko, or the Negev? It never ends. We didn’t come back to Israel to be fearful and accompanied by police everywhere.”