Controversial visit by a far right Israeli minister to the Esplanade

Controversial visit by a far-right Israeli minister to the Esplanade of Mosques

Israel’s new Minister of National Security and far-right figure Itamar Ben Gvir early Tuesday visited the compound of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy site at the heart of tensions in east Jerusalem, despite threats from Palestinian Hamas.

“Our government will not give in to Hamas’ threats,” Ben Gvir said Tuesday after the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, described the minister’s intention to visit the Esplanade as “the prelude to an escalation in the region.” had.

The Esplanade, Islam’s third holiest site and Judaism’s holiest site, known as “Temple Mount,” is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the Israeli-occupied and annexed Palestinian sector.

Under a historical status quo, non-Muslims can go there at certain times, but cannot pray there. In recent years, however, increasing numbers of Jews, often nationalists, have been praying there in secret, a gesture denounced as a “provocation” by the Palestinians.

Itamar Ben Gvir, who went there several times as an MP, had announced his intention to go there as a minister.

“Our Palestinian people will continue to defend their holy sites and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Kassem said Tuesday, calling the visit a “crime.”

“iron fist”

In 2000, the visit of Ariel Sharon, then head of Israel’s right-wing opposition, to the Esplanade was perceived as a provocation by the Palestinians. The next day, bloody clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli police, marking the beginning of the second Intifada (Palestinian uprising, 2000-2005).

In May 2021, violence in east Jerusalem, particularly on the Esplanade, was the prelude to an 11-day war between Hamas and Israel.

“The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel, we maintain freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but the Jews will also climb the Temple Mount and those who threaten must be dealt with with an iron fist,” he added. Ben Gvir.

Itamar Ben Gvir, a lawyer by training living in one of the most radical settlements in the occupied West Bank, became a minister in December 2022 in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the most far-right in the country’s history.

He defends Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, where 2.9 million Palestinians and 475,000 Israelis live, in settlements deemed illegal under international law.

He also advocates relocating part of Israel’s Arab population, considered disloyal, to neighboring countries, often going where tensions are greatest and, according to his critics, setting fire to the powder.