Despite the warnings, Israel’s new Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, today visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the first time since taking office. According to Israeli media reports, he arrived at the holy site in the old city early in the morning accompanied by police. Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic organization that governs the Gaza Strip, had previously warned against such a visit by Ben-Gvir and threatened further serious escalation.
The Temple Mount (al-Haram al-Sharif) with the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. But it is also sacred to Jews because there used to be two Jewish temples there. The Temple Mount is under Muslim administration, while Israel is responsible for security.
Visit but don’t pray
According to an agreement with the Muslim authorities, Jews are allowed to visit the premises but not to pray there. However, there are always violations. Ben-Gvir criticized this arrangement as “racist” and discriminating against Jews. Palestinians accuse Israel of wanting to expand its control over the holy site.
On the Palestinian side, Ben-Gvir’s visit is seen as a deliberate provocation. Former Israeli Prime Minister Jair Lapid had tweeted the day before: “Itamar Ben-Gvir must not visit the Temple Mount, this is a provocation that will lead to violence that will endanger human lives and cost human lives.”
The second Palestinian Intifada uprising began in 2000 after a demonstrative visit by then opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount.
Ben-Gvir, of far-right Ozma Jehudit, had previously been convicted of racist hate speech and supporting a Jewish terrorist organization.
He is considered a political firebrand, especially where Palestinians are concerned. He is part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s new religious right-wing government, which was sworn in on Thursday in Israel.