Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to uphold the status quo on the Temple Mount and continue to prevent non-Muslims from praying there, in response to rising violence at the flashpoint religious complex.
In recent weeks, the Israeli government has weathered criticism from Palestinians, its Muslim allies, and from partners within its own coalition over its handling of Jewish visitors to the site.
“Israel is committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount,” Lapid said, in a briefing to foreign journalists at his Jerusalem ministry on Sunday afternoon. “Muslims pray on the Temple Mount, non-Muslims only visit. There is no change, there will be no change. ”
While Israel remains publicly committed to the policy, Palestinians complain that in practice, some Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount do pray. On Saturday night, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai gave an interview to Israel’s public broadcaster Kan in which he confirmed a “deterioration” in the status quo.
“There are a lot more Jews who are going up to the Temple Mount. There are some that stop on the way and pray, which was forbidden, ”Shai told Kan.
“Shai is misinformed,” Lapid asserted in response to a question from The Times of Israel about the diaspora affairs minister’s comments, while also relenting: “Now, somebody might sneak by, now and then.”
Lapid said that, in line with Israel’s official policy, the police who enforce order on the Temple Mount are instructed to prevent Jewish prayer. However, while upholding the current policy, Lapid nevertheless said that he finds fault with a policy that prevents Jewish worship in the Jewish state.
“By the way, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea that Jews do not have freedom of religion in the State of Israel and that Jews are banned from the site,” Lapid said.
“I do know what instructions the police have – and they’re enforcing them to the best of their ability – that Muslims can pray on the Temple Mount and that other religions can visit,” the foreign minister said.
Lapid also noted that Israel has prevented provocations from Jews seeking to assert themselves on the Temple Mount or in Muslim areas of the Old City.
“Israel has made substantial efforts to stop Jewish extremist elements as well,” he said.
In the past weeks, there have been attempts by fringe Jewish groups to conduct a biblical Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount, as well as the “flag march” of nationalists planned through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, both of which were prevented by Israel Police.
The Temple Mount, known as Haram al-Sharif or referred to as the Al-Aqsa compound by Muslims, is Judaism’s holiest site and Islam’s third holiest. A perennial flashpoint for violence, it has been the nexus of clashes between Palestinian rioters and the Israel Police in past weeks during Ramadan.
Israel has faced tensions with its Muslim allies, including diplomatic rebukes by the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Turkey, in connection to conflict on the Temple Mount. Lapid has been at the forefront of damage control, visiting and calling Arab and Muslim leaders to ameliorate relations.
Israel has faced sharp criticism for its handling of current violence and its decision to send police onto the Temple Mount complex in order to squash riots. Israel has responded by providing evidence of Palestinian rioters armed with Molotov cocktails and rocks, the latter of which some rain down upon Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall below.
Lapid placed blame for the violence squarely upon terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which he said send activists onto the Temple Mount in order to incite violence that demands a police response.
“We have to put things into proportion. There have been 200 to 300 extremists sent by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to incite riots. But just yesterday, 95,000 worshipers came to the Temple Mount to hold a holy ceremony, and to hold it in peace, ”Lapid said.
“We have done everything to ensure peaceful prayer,” Lapid continued, contrasting the peaceful prayer with a separate incident on Friday, during which he said that Hamas activists on the Temple Mount publicly mounted an “antisemitic call for the slaughter of Israeli citizens.”
Israel has faced a resurgent wave of terrorist attacks in the past month, so far killing 14 people. Lapid revealed that, since the start of 2022, the Israel Defense Forces have thwarted 126 significant terrorist attacks, the majority of which were planned with firearms, but including two foiled suicide belt attacks.
While the IDF has been active in the West Bank, particularly in the area of Jenin, to quiet terror, Israel has left work permits from the area untouched. Workers from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, however, will be temporarily barred, in accordance with a decision following rocket fire over the weekend.
“We made the decision not to enable workers from Gaza to enter Israel today,” the foreign minister said.
The government, according to Lapid, had been planning to double the number of work permits into Israel from Gaza to 20,000, pending quiet during the Ramadan period.
“In the light of recent events, we will have to reexamine this decision carefully,” said Lapid.