More than 1,000 Jews visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday morning to mark the Jewish day of mourning Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the two Jewish temples, amid deadly fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group in the Gaza Strip.
Among the pilgrims was Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right Knesset member who regularly makes high-profile trips to the holy site at times of heightened tension, in what is widely seen as a deliberately provocative move.
Many Jews traditionally visit the Western Wall and the Old City of Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting that began on Saturday evening and lasts until Sunday evening, to mourn the destruction of the two temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively. The Tisha B’Av, the Book of Lamentations is traditionally read, along with a number of mournful poems and songs known as Kinot.
As fighting erupted on Friday, ahead of the day of mourning centered on Jerusalem, Israeli analysts raised concerns that large numbers of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount could further worsen the situation at the site. holy of Jerusalem.
Despite these fears, the Sunday morning pilgrimages to the Temple Mount were relatively uneventful.
Police say a handful of Jewish visitors were arrested and expelled from the holy site for violating visitation conditions, including prostrating themselves on the ground and praying aloud, which is prohibited for Jewish visitors to the site.
In addition, a number of Muslim visitors were arrested and expelled for “disturbing the public order, provocative, making inciting remarks and unsuccessfully attempting to disrupt the lawful movement of visitors”, police said.
Footage from the scene released by Ben Gvir’s spokesman shows Palestinians at the hotspot site heckling the lawmaker, shouting “Allahu akbar” and “slay the Jew” in Arabic. Ben Gvir is seen in the video responding “Am Yisrael Chai,” or “long live the Jewish people.”
Police said officers broke up a number of other clashes between Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem’s Old City throughout Sunday morning.
In one case, two men from East Jerusalem allegedly sprayed pepper spray on a group of Jews visiting the Old City. The two suspects have been arrested and taken to court to be held in custody, police said.
Tens of thousands of Jews visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday morning for Tisha B’Av. Similar numbers also visited the site on Saturday evening. Although large crowds poured into the site in the early hours of Sunday, by noon the square was largely empty, due to a combination of intense August heat on the fast day and security concerns at the light of the fighting in Gaza.
Ben Gvir, who also prayed Saturday night at the Western Wall, said his visit had been coordinated a week earlier with Israeli police and Knesset guards, insisting that rising tensions after the launch of the Operation Breaking Dawn would not change his plans.
In a statement, the lawmaker said he received several death threats ahead of his visit. He said he hoped the police would take action on the matter, but did not say whether he had filed a complaint.
Ben Gvir, a hardline Knesset member from the Religious Zionism party, made his controversial last visit to the Temple Mount in late May, on Jerusalem Day.
Ben Gvir’s Sunday visit was reportedly discussed at a meeting Saturday night by Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, as well as at the high-level security cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
הגעתי כעת לכותל, שריד בית מקדשנו, לקונן על חורבן הבית ולהתפלל לשלומשם pic.twitter.com/QFOmgSzfqX
— איתמר בן גביר (@itamarbengvir) August 6, 2022
MK Gaby Lasky of the coalition’s left-wing Meretz party commented on Twitter that Ben Gvir’s visit should be blocked “to prevent escalation and provocation that could lead to a dangerous outburst”. [of tensions].”
The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews, as the site of biblical temples, and the compound’s Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest shrine in Islam, transforming the area into a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The site is administered by the Waqf, a religious trust managed and financed by Jordan.
Under an increasingly frayed arrangement known as the status quo, Jews are generally allowed to visit the Temple Mount for limited hours and on a short, pre-determined route, but not to pray there, perform other acts of worship or to transport objects related to such worship.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on Saturday warned UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland that Israeli “provocations” should be prevented on Sunday on the Temple Mount.
Also stressed to the UN envoy @TWennesland the urgency of preventing any Israeli provocation to #AlAqsa tomorrow to avoid further escalation. The historical and legal status quo must be respected. Ending the escalation and restoring calm must be a global priority. It’s in everyone’s interest 2/2
— Ayman Safadi (@AymanHsafadi) August 6, 2022
Police have been deployed in force in Jerusalem, and particularly in the Old City and Temple Mount area, to secure services on the Tisha B’Av fast day amid the conflagration in Gaza.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev met with senior police officers on Saturday to discuss preparations, saying “the main mission of the police is to maintain calm in the country and ensure that all instructions emergency in the south are respected”.
“Police will also be deployed at points across Jerusalem for Tisha B’Av to ensure public safety,” he said.
Earlier this week, before violence erupted in Gaza, a Channel 12 report said political and security decision-makers were concerned about the violence on the Temple Mount during the fast day. Previous Tisha B’Avs have seen more than 1,000 Jewish pilgrims visit the powder keg site which has been at the center of repeated rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent months and years.
Israel does not view these visits as a violation of the status quo, but the Palestinians view such a large number of Jewish visitors as itself a violation of the status quo.
The increase in the number of Jewish visitors has not only taken place in Tisha B’Av but throughout the year, as public opinion has shifted – particularly in the national religious camp – in favor of the practice.
Visitations by Jews also increasingly included prayers — sometimes in a college setting, but more often by individuals. Such conduct was once prohibited by Israeli police accompanying Jewish visitors to the site, but footage in recent years has shown officers allowing the often silent prayers to continue, which the Palestinians say demonstrated a further deterioration of the status quo.