Since the gun battle at the al-Aqsa compound on 14 July that ended in the deaths of three Palestinian citizens of Israel and two Israeli police, Israeli media have largely focused on outrage that anyone would carry out an attack at a holy site, while praising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s collective punishment against the Palestinian population.
“They are the strife mongers,” Yedioth Ahronot columnist Ben-Dror Yemini wrote. “They are harming the justified struggle for equality. They are spreading lies and nurturing incitement. For our sake, for their sake, Israel’s Arabs should also get rid of this nuisance.”
“Netanyahu and [PA leader Mahmoud] Abbas both acted responsibly to prevent a holy war; but the Arab world’s condemnation of Israel is a reason for concern,” read the subheading of an analysis by Haaretz’s Barak Ravid.
Missing from commentaries across the board has been any acknowledgment of the role played by fanatical settlers intent on wresting control of the al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem and eventually destroying it as part of an apocalyptic vision.
The compound, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount, includes the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is one of the holiest shrines for Muslims all over the world, as well as a touchstone of Palestinian identity.
Israelis who seek to take over al-Aqsa see the 14 July attack and subsequent violence as an opportunity to advance this agenda. Immediately after the incident, the Temple movement’s official body released a statement calling to expel Palestinians from the compound: “We must liberate the Temple Mount from the murderous Islam and return it to the people of Israel.”
“Looking forward to building the Temple this year and hope that you will soon see the face of our righteous Messiah,” Baruch Marzel one of the most extreme leaders among Israel’s West Bank settlers, wrote last week in an open letter to the mufti of Jerusalem – the top Muslim official in the city.
Under Israeli military protection, these settlers and extremists tour the grounds on a daily basis, hoping to provoke violent reactions from Palestinian worshippers by shouting and singing nationalistic anthems.
This then provides occupation forces with the necessary pretext to enact harsh measures, with the eventual goal of cleansing non-Jews and replacing the Muslim holy sites there with a Jewish temple, thus triggering a civilizational clash with Islam.
Yehuda Glick, a longtime leader of the Temple movement, now a Likud Party lawmaker, last week welcomed Israel’s ban on Muslims entering the al-Aqsa compound in the days following the shootings.
“This is an enormous game changer,” he said. “Everything is part of the redemption process but the things that happen on the Temple Mount are especially so.”
“Radical Muslims who desecrate with blood the holiness of the Temple Mount, the holiest place to the Jewish people, have no right to be there,” Glick and the Jewish Home party’s Shuli Moalem-Refaeli said.
Last week, Glick held a Temple movement emergency session in the Knesset building, Israel’s parliament. Attendees included genocide advocate Rabbi Yisrael Ariel and Bentzi Gopstein, leader of the anti-miscegenation youth movement Lehava.
Yisrael Ariel, the chief rabbi of the Temple movement, articulated an apocalyptic end times scenario in 2015.
“[God] is the one who commanded us to go from city to city conquering them, and to impose the seven laws [of the Sons of Noah] throughout the world,” Ariel said.
Ariel added that if Muslims and Christians “raise the flag of [surrender] and say, ‘From now on, there is no more Christianity and no more Islam,’ and the mosques and Christian spires come down,” then they would be allowed to live. “If not,” he warned, “you kill all of their males by sword. You leave only the women.”
“We will conquer Iraq, Turkey [and] we will get to Iran too,” Ariel proclaimed.
Ariel is the founder and head of the Temple Institute, the government-funded group that has published detailed blueprints and a computer animation of what the Temple, to be built over the ruins of al-Aqsa, will look like.
The Temple Institute has received funding from Israel’s education ministry to develop a curriculum to instill “longing for the Temple” in children as young as those attending kindergarten. In 2013, Israel’s mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, presented Ariel with an award for his organization’s work.
This genocidal ideology is rooted in religious Zionism and its political wing is represented by the Jewish Home party.
In 2012, Zevulun Orlev, one of the party’s lawmakers in the Knesset, called for the construction of a temple at the compound, saying that removing the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque would mean that the “billion-strong Muslim world would surely launch a world war.”
This messianic extremism has taken hold in the Likud Party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well.
In 2014, Likud’s Moshe Feiglin, then deputy speaker of the Knesset, explained the fanatical worldview. “We are in the major front of the fight for the free world against the evil forces of the most extreme Islam,” Feiglin asserted. “Behind the violence, there is a spiritual battle, and the core of that battle is that place – the Temple Mount.”
Pretext of “religious freedom”
Many other Israeli politicians are following the Temple movement’s lead.
A Likud Party website has launched a petition to “raise the Israeli flag on the Temple Mount.”
“The Temple Mount is not in our hands,” the petition declares. “We must change this absurdity.”
Transport minister Yisrael Katz has vowed that Israel “will not cede sovereignty” over al-Aqsa.
“We need to close the Temple Mount to Muslims for an extended period of time,” Jewish Home lawmaker Moti Yogev said.
Incitement from Israeli officials has become commonplace in recent years. Dozens of Knesset members have given verbal, and even material, support to the Temple movement.
While their statements occasionally elicit a headline, they are rarely taken into consideration in analysis of the explosive situation at the al-Aqsa compound.
This incitement is often couched in calls for Israel to unilaterally change the status quo and allow Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa, citing a lack of religious freedom at the occupied holy site.
But Israel’s official chief rabbis have long formally prohibited prayer by Jews at the compound for theological reasons – out of concern that Jews could inadvertently desecrate places that must remain ritually pure.
In keeping with this tradition, leaders in Israel’s Orthodox Jewish community blame those who insist on going to the al-Aqsa compound for the resulting bloodshed. The prohibition on visiting the Temple Mount is firmly upheld by leading Orthodox rabbis.
“Those who visit the Temple Mount are turning the Israeli-Arab conflict into a religious conflict,” the Eidah Chareidis, a major anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish organization in Jerusalem, has warned.
“The true story”
However, as Feiglin revealed at a Knesset session in 2013, the call for Jews to be allowed to pray at the compound is a pretext for an Israeli seizure of the site.
“Let’s be truthful. The struggle here in not about prayer,” Feiglin admitted. “Arabs don’t mind that Jews pray to God. Why should they care? We all believe in God. The struggle is about sovereignty. That’s the true story here. The story is about one thing only: sovereignty.”
To make the job of journalists covering events at the al-Aqsa compound easier, I have compiled below this article a list of current and former Knesset members and ministers who have supported the Temple movement’s apocalyptic goals in varying degrees.
Some of the Israeli politicians identify with the movement themselves, while others understand it is politically expedient to make public statements in support of Israeli sovereignty at al-Aqsa.
Likud lawmaker Avi Dichter, for example, is a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet secret police. Dichter appeared in the 2012 documentary The Gatekeepers, which marketed him and five other former Shin Bet chiefs as tough but pragmatic security types who have become “doves.”
But last week, Dichter posted on Facebook a photo of himself in front of the Dome of the Rock with text reading, “Open the Temple Mount for Jews.”
Provocation and bloodshed
Given the level of incitement regarding the most sensitive site in the country – on top of the climate of desperation created by Israel’s deadly siege of Gaza, expanding colonies in the occupied West Bank including Jerusalem and the erosion of rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel – attacks like the one on 14 July should come as no surprise to informed observers.
As Dichter said in 2013 when he was public security minister – before embracing the Temple movement’s agenda – Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa, “will serve as a provocation, resulting in disorder, with a near certain likelihood of subsequent bloodshed.”
That may be precisely what many Israelis hope for. Following a stabbing attack by a Palestinian on Friday that left three Israelis in the illegal settlement of Halamish dead, Tzachi Hanegbi, a senior Likud minister and close ally of Netanyahu, threatened Palestinians with a “third Nakba” – a reference to Israel’s mass expulsions and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967.
Another former public security minister, Hanegbi promised back in 2003 that Jews “soon, very soon” would be able to pray at the al-Aqsa compound.
Israeli leaders and politicians who support the Temple movement
“We have to call upon the government and Knesset to permit Jewish prayer, to make Jewish prayer something normal and permitted,” Ben-Dahan told a conference in the Knesset last November.
Ben-Dahan has previously described Palestinians as “beasts” who “aren’t human.”
In 2015, Hotovely made headlines when she said her dream was to see an Israeli flag over the Temple Mount and insisted Jews be able to pray there.
“It is important to remove it [the Temple Mount] from the purview of the wild-eyed religious,” Elkin stated. “We must explain to broad swathes of the people that without this place, our national liberty is incomplete.”
When asked by this reporter how he would carry out the demolitions, he responded, “It would not be responsible at this point in time to tell you how we would do it, but I will say it clear and loud: when I have the opportunity to do it, I will.”
Following the 1994 massacre by an American Jewish settler of 29 Palestinian worshippers at Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque – another site sacred to Muslims and Jews – Israeli forces partitioned the mosque and turned the Old City into a ghost town.
Regev again called for a new arrangement immediately following the 14 July attack.
Justice minister Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home, who published a genocidal call to kill Palestinian mothers just before the 2014 offensive on Gaza, has also called for unilaterally changing the status quo to allow Jews to pray at the al-Aqsa compound.
“We’ve built many little, little temples,” Ariel has said, “but we need to build a real temple on the Temple Mount.”
Public security minister Gilad Erdan of Likud has also lent his support to this effort. “In my opinion, our right to the Temple Mount is unshakeable,” Erdan said at the Seekers of Zion conference in the Knesset in November.
Erdan is also in charge of Israel’s effort to fight the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
A former public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch of the Yisrael Beitenu party also came out in support in 2014. “It is important to open the [Temple Mount] to Jews, tens of thousands of worshippers come here,” he said.
Yehiel Hilik Bar
Deputy Knesset speaker and a former secretary-general of the nominally leftist Labor Party Yehiel Hilik Bar initially co-sponsored a bill with Miri Regev altering the status quo at al-Aqsa, however he pulled his backing after receiving criticism.
Bar said that he and the Labor party “are part of the Zionist center-left that sees our holy sites as the basis of our existence and the essence of our history.”
David Tzur, a former lawmaker for the ostensibly “dovish” Hatnua party, led by Tzipi Livni, has cited rabbinical and judicial affirmation of a “right” to Jewish prayer at the al-Aqsa compound, but said that at the “political level” it has not been deemed expedient to change the status quo precipitously due to the “sensitivity” of the matter.
Among those who have led Israeli incursions into the compound is former lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari, a leading inciter against Africans and Palestinians who once destroyed a copy of the New Testament on video.
Build Temple “as soon as possible”
Smotrich, Shuli Muallem-Refaeli and Nissan Slomiansky of Jewish Home, and Miki Zohar, Avraham Neguise and Hazan of Likud signed a bill supporting Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa.
Tourism minister Yariv Levin of Likud said, “It seems to me that when Jews for so many years sat in exile and prayed for a return to Zion, they did not mean Tel Aviv, but Jerusalem. They did not dream of returning to the Knesset building and the Prime Minister’s office, but to someplace else – to the Temple Mount.”
Minister for social equality Gila Gamliel of Likud has said, “the Temple is the ID card of the people of Israel.”
Lawmaker Arieh Eldad has gone up to al-Aqsa in demonstration of Israeli control.
Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker.
Editor’s note: This article has been amended to clarify and expand the statement of David Tzur regarding prayer at the al-Aqsa compound.
- Temple activism
- Temple Movement
- Al-Aqsa Mosque
- Ben-Dror Yemini
- Barak Ravid
- Yehuda Glick
- Baruch Marzel
- Bezalel Smotrich
- Bentzi Gopstein
- Yisrael Ariel
- Temple Institute
- Nir Barkat
- Zevulun Orlev
- dome of the rock
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Moshe Feiglin
- Jewish Home party
- Orthodox Judaism
- Avi Dichter
- Tzachi Hanegbi
- Eli Ben-Dahan
- Tzipi Hotovely
- Tzipi Livni
- Zeev Elkin
- Oren Hazan
- Yuli Edelstein
- Miri Regev
- Ayelet Shaked
- Uri Ariel
- Gilad Erdan
- Danny Danon
- Yitzhak Aharonovitch
- Yehiel Hilik Bar
- David Tzur
- Michael Ben-Ari
- Ofir Akunis
- Yariv Levin
- Gila Gamliel
- Arieh Eldad