There is no single place in Jerusalem as politically sensitive as the site that Jews call the Temple Mount, and Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif, or noble sanctuary.
In the past couple of decades, there have been riots and violent confrontations there. The Second Intifada erupted in 2000 after Ariel Sharon, then leader of Israel’s right-wing opposition, visited the Temple Mount.
While Israel annexed the Temple Mount and all of East Jerusalem after their capture in the 1967 Six Day War, the Muslim group known as the Waqf manages the site. Freedom of access to the area is enshrined in Israeli law. However, for security reasons, Israeli police enforces a ban on Jewish and other non-Muslim prayer there.
Recently, right-wing religious Zionists have been pushing to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. They want the Israeli government to assert its sovereignty over what Jews revere as the site of the first and second holy temples. These activists have gained support from elements within the current government, especially members of the Jewish nationalist Habayit Hayehudi party.
While the Waqf is in favor of tourists of all kinds visiting the area, it is wary of Jewish religious fanatics who might want to damage or destroy the Dome of the Rock and other Muslim sites. Some ultra-religious Jews believe it’s their responsibility to do so in order to clear the path for construction of a third temple.
Yehudah Glick, an American immigrant to Israel, professional tour guide and Temple Mount activist, was arrested on October 10 and barred by the Israeli police from the site. He began a hunger strike in protest, ending last Thursday after 12 days, when his permission to ascend to the Temple Mount was reinstated.
The Forward asked Glick about his being barred from the Temple Mount, his hunger strike, and why he believes Jews should have full access to the site.
Renee Ghert-Zand: Why is it important for Jews to have free access to the Temple Mount at this time?
Yehudah Glick : The Temple Mount is the only Holy site in the world for the Jewish people. It is the only place in the world where a Jew is obliged to ascend and to pray.
As you understand it, why were you detained and banned from site?
That day, I concluded a guided tour as I have done already hundreds of times. I continued to begin guiding my next group. As I was about to enter the Temple Mount for the second time, an officer approached me and said that I couldn’t ascend and that I was detained because on the previous visit I behaved in a manner that could have harmed public order. I was taken to investigation, not given any other information about what I had done. My lawyer asked for detailed information. After one month we received an official letter from the police claiming that on secret video cameras it was found that while guiding the tour, I recited a prayer for the peace of the Land of Israel and for the success of the Israel Defense Forces, which is a criminal action on the Temple Mount.
Do you pray or engage in activism when you take groups up to the Temple Mount?
Most groups who approach me for guidance do not refer to the Temple Mount as just a tourist or historic site, but rather as the most holy site in the world. The place is mentioned in the Bible as the place of the Divine Presence and is the location of the Holy Temples, the center of Jewish life for almost 1000 years. Therefore, when I take groups to the mountain, we refer to it as a holy site. We do not by any means demonstrate or engage in any activity—political or otherwise—that would disrespect the place. Unfortunately, the Israeli police claim that any public prayer can be referred to as provocative. So, as law-abiding people, we pray in a way that is not noticeable by spectators.
Why did you decide to start a hunger strike?
I began my hunger strike due to the fact that preventing me [from ascending to the Temple Mount] was a cruel and a not right decision. I was also not given the minimum ability to protect myself legally. During my hunger strike, I only drank – a cup of coffee in the morning, apple juice during the day and a bowl of liquid soup in the evening. I think it is quite obvious that this tactic worked and had the effect I expected it to have…I acted in a way that expressed that I was determined to succeed, and I also threatened that I would sue them for every day that I was banned. This action, which included no violence and had a clear logical and reasonable demand, gave me wide support including people who don’t support my activity on a daily basis.
What is your vision for the Temple Mount? Who should be in charge, and what should happen there?
Personally, I believe that the Temple Mount represents a place that has potential for being an international center for religious tolerance. Unfortunately, it has now been taken over by a religion that believes in promoting hate and inciting terror.
Recently, I became the director of an initiative founded by the Israel Independence Fund called LIBAH - The Initiative for Jewish Freedom on the Temple Mount. This was motivated by the denial of Jewish civil rights at Judaism’s most holy site. While Israel’s Supreme Court has recognized the right of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, it has left the implementation of those basic civil and religious rights to police discretion. This in turn has led to consistent civil rights violations in the name of short-sighted self-serving expediencies. Current restrictions are humiliating, demeaning and carry all the hateful aspects of “dhimmi-tude” and second-class citizenry. How can this inhumane treatment to Jews be possible in sovereign Israeli territory?
The restriction of Jewish presence as a way of keeping “peace” actually undercuts the prospects for peaceful co-existence in Israel and in the region as a whole. How can we expect to have any kind of peaceful co-existence if there is not the mutual respect that would allow all peoples, and especially Muslims and Jews, to share space that is of vital import and concern to each? Real, meaningful, durable peace begins on the Temple Mount.