President Herzog promises freedom of worship during Ramadan

The comments come after Ben-Gvir on Saturday called for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to be barred from the Temple Mount.

By JNS

Israeli President Isaac Herzog vowed on Tuesday to maintain freedom of worship for Muslims atop the Temple Mount, amid an effort by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to clamp down on Hamas supporters at the holy site during the upcoming Ramadan holiday.

“I make it clear to the international community and of course to our Muslim brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world, that Israel has always and will always maintain freedom of worship and religion in Jerusalem of course, and in all religious sites around the country, and definitely on Temple Mount, in mosques, pending security considerations and challenges,” said Herzog.

The president acknowledged that there are “rogue elements, extreme Islamic fundamentalist groups who always seek to flare up surrounding the holidays and celebrations and the prayers, and that we will not permit.

“Having said that, it should be made clear with no ifs or buts: Israel is committed completely to freedom of religion since its founding, has always maintained it, practiced it, and all decisions which were taken even this week are in line with it.”

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The comments come after Ben-Gvir on Saturday called for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to be barred from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan, which begins the second week of March.

“It is forbidden to allow residents from the Palestinian Authority to enter Israel in any way. We cannot take chances and risks,” tweeted Ben-Gvir. “It can’t be that women and children remain captive in Gaza and we allow Hamas victory celebrations on the Temple Mount.”

Israel has in the past permitted Palestinians to visit the Temple Mount during Ramadan, and the security establishment supports maintaining this policy, according to a Channel 12 report.

Ben-Gvir is at odds with police brass, over whom he has authority, who are pushing for Palestinians aged 60 and over to be allowed to pray at the Temple Mount during Ramadan, according to the report.

Ben-Gvir is also reportedly pushing to bar Arab Israelis under the age of 70 from accessing the site.

Israeli media reported this week that Israel Security Agency chief Ronen Bar warned the Cabinet that placing restrictions on access to the Temple Mount, especially on Arab Israelis, could inflame religious tensions already exacerbated by the ongoing war against Hamas.

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For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly described calls to place curbs on access as “logical” given the unprecedented Oct. 7 massacre. As such, he directed authorities to prepare options for implementing quotas on Arabs visiting the site during Ramadan.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that police have also proposed maintaining a presence on the Temple Mount to prevent Arabs from waving Hamas flags or inciting against Israel, while the ISA opposes dispatching any such force.

Jordan has since 1967 been the custodian of holy sites in the Israeli capital, including the Al Aqsa Mosque that sits atop the Temple Mount.

Currently, Jews can only visit the Mount during short windows of time, and are prohibited from praying there so as to not upset Muslims, who regularly riot at the site.