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Rabbi explains excitement Conflict over Temple Mount

On Sunday, Israel's National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited the Temple Mount in Israel's capital Jerusalem for the second time since taking office, triggering another wave of protests. Even when he visited the Temple Mount in January, he was sharply attacked by various parties, including the federal government. With the recent visit, the media storm of indignation was repeated.

We spoke to an Israeli who is familiar with the Temple Mount and is there almost every day: The Israeli Rabbi Yehuda Levi organizes guided tours on the mountain with the group "High on the Har" and talks in an interview about Israel's dealings with Muslims who Discrimination against religious Jews on the Temple Mount and Minister Ben-Gvir, whom he knows personally. Please explain the situation on the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Yehuda Levi: One of the founding principles of the State of Israel is that Israel is committed to preserving the holy sites of others like no other. There is no such thing in Islam. If they occupy a place, it doesn't matter that churches originated in Christianity and that they are valuable for who knows how many years. They say, "It's not yours. It's ours. We are the only legitimate religion.”

The Israeli state has so far viewed the Temple Mount as more of a Muslim holy site than a Jewish holy site. Even if everyone says that the holiest site in Judaism is the Temple Mount. And if you believe in the Torah, you have to admit that it is there. And since most monotheistic religions have their starting point in the Torah, they also have to agree.

But since Muslims still use the Al-Aqsa site as a holy sight, it is now under Muslim care since Moshe Dayan [Israel's Defense Minister] made the decision in 1967 to return the keys to the Islamic Waqf. That's the Jordanian organization that's in charge there. So they set the rules for the Temple Mount and to be clear: these are not Israeli laws, these are just rules laid down by the Islamic Waqf. And these rules are then enforced by the Israeli police.

In general, the Palestinian groups in and around Jerusalem are very hostile to the State of Israel, leading to all the clashes seen on the Temple Mount. After all, it is the Israeli police who stand at the entrance and ensure the safety of the people. And if someone gets hurt, it's the Israeli police that go in there and get them out.

So there's this tension because the people, the believers here, don't want to be reminded of Israeli sovereignty over the site and you won't find an Israeli flag anywhere on the Temple Mount. The politicization of the site is increasingly being used to bolster Palestinian Authority claims, and it is quite common to see Palestinian flags atop Temple Mount on a Friday and Saturday at Temple Mount.

According to the rules of the Temple Mount, you can't smoke there, you can't play ball there. In reality, at least 30 to 40 football games are regularly played on the Temple Mount when we're there - and I can't tell you what's going on when we're not there.

And despite all the reassurances from the police that they are busy finishing the soccer games, tomorrow you can go up on any rooftop and look at the Temple Mount and see at least four or five soccer games.

I mean if you want to compare what Mecca looks like, watch Mecca live stream and see how a real holy site is treated in Islam. Al-Aqsa Mosque itself is treated with respect. It's a mosque and I would expect them to be respectful of it. However, the rest of the site is treated as a park.

"I am discriminated against because I wear a yarmulke on my head."

What is it like to climb the Temple Mount as a Jew?

Today there are nine functioning entrances to the Temple Mount. Eight of these are reserved exclusively for Muslim believers. The only way non-Muslims can enter is through security at the Western Wall. Incidentally, the only access that has security controls.

When you get to the top of the bridge, you will be greeted by Islamic Waqf. These aren't security guards, but they are wardens. And if they don't like the way you are supposed to be dressed according to the rules of Islam, they will give you special clothes to wear. You are also not allowed to carry an Israeli flag or a Bible or anything similar.

As long as you don't do anything that would be considered "nationalist," like praying, taking out your cross, or engaging in religious activities, you're free to roam the entire site - provided you don't enter any of the buildings. You cannot enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock.

Now up there there is an additional security risk for religious Jews because it is assumed that there are terrorist groups who want to attack Jews there. The job of the police officers is primarily to provide us with security, for which we are very grateful. But secondly, to prevent us from entering forbidden areas. And third, to prevent us from doing what they see as a provocation to Muslims.

So the Israeli police set up a second system for religious people: you can only go up there in groups and you are guarded by at least five police officers, including three riot police. And the cops will tell you where to go and where to stop. You have no freedom.

If you try to leave the group, you will be arrested and arrested. The Islamic Waqf, the guards there, go with us and if there is even the slightest hint of provocation, they yell straight in our faces, charge at us and then the police take us away. And that's a flash point, because that's not fair. I am discriminated against for wearing a kippah on my head.

However, we still managed to offer a little passive resistance, for example by saying prayers as if I were a conversation with them, so that they could not see that we were praying. So it was more or less allowed. But it happened because we came regularly as a dedicated group of 15 to 30 people every day.

So there are actually three classes of people on the Temple Mount? Muslims who can basically do whatever they want, even play football. Non-Muslims who have major restrictions but can move freely. And then the religious Jews are the most restricted?

Yes. And we believe that it is an inherent human right for every human being, regardless of age, sexuality, creed or religion, to connect with God, and that the ultimate place of connection to Him is right here, on the Temple Mount , lies. That is why the prophet Isaiah says that my house will be a house of prayer for all nations. It is inherent in Judaism that everyone has this right.

As long as the Muslim Wafq are in charge of the Temple Mount, any non-Muslim is barred from praying there, even if we have allowed quasi-prayer, it's not the same. But if the Jews were in control of the temple entrance, then everyone could pray there, even Muslims could continue to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque.

So your ultimate political goal would be a Temple Mount where everyone, regardless of their religion, can go up and pray, be it Muslim, Jew, Christian?

I couldn't have said it better myself. Because that is not only our political, but also our religious point of view.

"The reality is that nothing changes on the Temple Mount."

But now to a political topic: Israeli politicians visiting the Temple Mount. This is often seen as a provocation in the media or by other governments. One of the examples is now National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir going there. The rules of the Islamic Waqf state that one is not allowed to pray up there, but Jews can visit at certain times. So, in his case, didn't he follow all these even extremely discriminatory rules against Jews?

That's a good question. First, there is nothing in the status quo to indicate that Israeli government ministers are not allowed on the Temple Mount. In fact, many government ministers have visited the mountain without making global headlines.

Itamar, whom I know personally long before he entered politics, was a great advocate of Jewish freedoms on the Temple Mount. He comes by once a month. He's been coming by once a month for at least five years, if not more. And that's just a regular part of his routine. It was his first visit in his new role as Government Minister and it really caused a stir.

I think the reason people are scared is because he's portrayed as this hot-tempered kahanist, and he was at a much younger point in his life. But he is not anti-Muslim. He's just an anti-terrorist. Well, he's also a very religious, deeply religious Jew and accordingly has the ultimate goal that every Jew really wants, which is the building of the Temple.

People are afraid that because he is in power now he will actually take action to make that happen. So when he goes upstairs they see it as if he is now ready to demolish the building and start building a temple. And even if no one says so, that's what I think they're ultimately afraid of.

Well, the reality is that nothing changes on the Temple Mount. Bibi [Netanyahu] is the one making the rules, not Itamar Ben-Gvir. Bibi is prime minister. And as long as Bibi is Prime Minister and doesn't want anything to change on the Temple Mount, it won't happen either.

Maybe the police will just be a little less intrusive. That's all I expect could change.

Click here to read the original article online, published in German.


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