An Israeli Jewish grandmother made a private visit to the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem with no hassles – that is, not until a guard heard her speaking Hebrew on the phone and apparently panicked.
By Atara Beck, World Israel News
Linda Olmert, a founder of the Haliba movement for Jewish civil rights on the Temple Mount, went to Judaism’s holiest site early Wednesday morning and was the only visitor there at the time. She told World Israel News that she was walking freely with no interruptions until she answered the phone.
The Old City was under Jordanian occupation from 1948 until 1967, when the IDF captured it during the Six-Day War. According to an agreement between Jordan and Israel, the Jordanian Waqf (Muslim Trust) has since maintained religious administration over the Temple Mount, although the site is under Israeli sovereignty.
Olmert became an activist for Jewish civil rights on the Mount after her first visit there in April 2013, when she and the group she was with experienced intense hostility as Jews, including stone-throwing.
Improvements for Jews are ‘cosmetic’
Although Jews who ascend the Mount are still subject to discriminatory laws, such as not being allowed to pray and being followed closely, it appears that the situation has improved to a large extent since 2013. Discussion about the right of Jews to visit the site have become more mainstream. Tens of thousands of Jews visit the site throughout the year, usually in groups and more so on Jewish festivals.
According to Olmert, however, the changes are merely “cosmetic.” On her Wednesday visit, once identified as an Israeli and a Jew, she was followed very closely throughout the rest of the stay by several Waqf guards and Israeli police.
“The moment they heard me speaking Hebrew and realized I was Israeli, they started following me,” Olmert told World Israel News. “Someone from the Waqf heard me, and his curiosity was piqued.
“He immediately ran over to ask what I was doing there,” she told World Israel News. “I said I was visiting. From where? Raanana. Why? It’s the holiest place for Jews. Do you know the rules? Do you know you can’t pray here?”
Avoiding bad publicity
The Waqf guard then said he was protecting Olmert, she said, but when asked if she was in danger, he said no.
“Another policeman said he was protecting me, that he wanted to avoid a flare-up. I really believe he wanted to avoid bad publicity,” she added, speculating that maybe he thought she was a journalist.
Since more people have been going up in recent years, she explained, the authorities realize that they have to be more careful about how they treat Jewish visitors, particularly those who, unlike Olmert, are identified by their attire as religious Jews.
As for the improvements in recent years, “the reason is that they realized they couldn’t continue to get away with it because we [Haliba] framed the issue as one of civil rights. Unfortunately, that is what made a difference.”
Unfortunately, she clarified, because “mainstream Israelis didn’t seem to care that Jews who looked religious were being harassed. It only became an issue that was important to them when it was framed as a civil rights issue.”
“On my way out,” she continued, “there were seven or eight policemen and about eight Waqf guards following me. I heard them speaking Arabic. I don’t understand much Arabic but recognized the word ‘Hezbollah’ and the curse words about me. They were very unhappy that I was there, told me I couldn’t be there.”