(JNS) Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City early on Tuesday morning. It was his first visit to Judaism’s holiest site since assuming his post last week.
— The Jewish Voice (@JewishVoice) January 3, 2023
“Our government will not surrender to threats from Hamas,” said Ben-Gvir in reference to the Palestinian terrorist group, which had vowed to “not stand idly by” and instead “ignite the region” if the minister visited the site in Israel’s capital.
“The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel,” Ben-Gvir noted during his visit, adding: “We maintain the freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews also go up to the site, and those who make threats must be dealt with with an iron fist.”
Ben-Gvir met on Monday night with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following which reports surfaced that the prospective visit to the Temple Mount would be delayed, if not altogether nixed.
High-ranking members of the Israel Police, including Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, had earlier in the day reportedly discussed Ben-Gvir’s intention to visit the site in Jerusalem’s Old City.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday condemned the visit, describing it as an “unprecedented provocation.”
“Netanyahu bears responsibility for this attack on al-Aqsa,” the P.A. Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The previous day, Ramallah had said that changes by Israel to the status quo at the Temple Mount would be a “declaration of war with serious consequences for everyone.”
Former Israeli premier and current opposition leader Yair Lapid on Monday had warned against Ben-Gvir’s proposed visit, saying he “must not go up to Temple Mount. It is a deliberate provocation that will put lives in danger and cost lives. As weak as Netanyahu is, he must, at least this time, stand up and tell him, ‘You are not going to the Temple Mount.’ People will die.”
The opposition head suggested that only regular lawmakers and not ministers could visit the Mount, saying that otherwise it would “be viewed by the whole world as breaking the status quo, even if it’s not.”
A longtime advocate for Jews being allowed to freely visit and pray at their holiest site, Ben-Gvir vowed on the campaign trail to change the existing status quo preventing them from doing both.
Currently, Jews can only visit the Mount during short windows of time, and are prohibited from worshiping so as to not upset Muslims, who regularly riot at the site.
Ben-Gvir’s visit comes on the 10th day of the month of Tevet on the Hebrew calendar, a fast day commemorating the events that led to the destruction of the biblical Temple.