Homeland Security Minister Omar Barlev insisted on Sunday that the status quo on the Temple Mount “exists and remains in place,” after months of media reports in which Jews pray openly while the police turned a blind eye.
“The Israel Police strictly maintains the status quo on the Temple Mount, which is sacred to Jews and Muslims alike,” said Barlev, whose office is responsible for overseeing law enforcement.
Barlev spoke after a meeting with senior Israeli law enforcement officials, including Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai and Jerusalem Police Chief Doron Turgeman. According to the Barlev Ministry, Foreign Ministry and GSS personnel were also present.
“The police acted to protect the existing situation – except in exceptional circumstances – which quickly identified and opposed it,” Barlev said.
The Temple Mount, known to Muslims in its Al-Aqsa Mosque, is the holiest site for Jews and the third holiest temple site in Islam. This is one of the emotionally controversial places in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and clashes there were part of the backdrop of the 11-day confrontation that Hamas achieved from Gaza in May.
Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war, there has been a fragile arrangement on Holy Hill: only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount itself, while Jews pray at the Western Wall, revered as a remnant of the Second Temple. .
Over the past few months, Israeli and international media have repeatedly shown that the police seemingly alleviate the limitations of Jewish prayer, an apparent change from the status quo. Jewish visitors were apparently photographed praying freely while the police watched.
In mid-July, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement appearing to affirm the right of Jews to “freedom of worship” at the holy site. The prime minister’s office later returned the allegations, but not before they provoked a small storm of condemnation from Arab and Muslim leaders.
In another surprising move that provoked Muslim outrage, a judge in Jerusalem earlier this month revoked a police order preventing a Jewish man from the site for 15 days after he was seen there praying quietly. The justice of the peace ruled that since the prayer was done quietly and not openly, it could not pose a security risk, which the police use to justify enforcing the ban.
An Israeli appellate judge overturned the lower court ruling, but not before the story spread throughout the Arab and Islamic world. Jordan, Egypt, the Arab League and the Islamic Cooperation Organization have condemned the decision.
Slight changes in the status quo – or even rumors of such changes – at the tense site have sparked violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in the past. In 2017, Israel installed metal detectors on the Temple Mount after Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli policemen. The move ignited a series of Palestinian demonstrations, clashes and terrorist attacks that left several Palestinians and Israelis dead.
According to the Walla news website, GSS officials expressed concern to Barlev during the meeting that a group of Jews would try to hold an open prayer on the Temple Mount, which provoked similar violence.
GSS agents also said that “elements in the Arab world and in Turkey” were trying to take advantage of cases of lone Jews praying on the Temple Mount to provoke such tensions.
Barlev denied in July that there had been a change in policy on the Temple Mount. In an interview with Channel 13, the minister said: “If Jews were praying on the Temple Mount, it is definitely against the law.”
Al-Aqsa Mosque director Omar al-Qiswani mocked on Sunday Barlev’s promise that nothing had changed: “These are statements designed to achieve a political effect; they have nothing to do with reality.”
“He may be saying this to comfort Jordan, or the Arab world, or the Muslims, but that does not reflect the bitter reality on the site,” al-Qiswani told the Times of Israel.
Former Likud MP Yehuda Glick, a prominent proponent of the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, said on Sunday that Jews have been praying openly at the site intermittently since 2016, when former Jerusalem District Police Chief Yoram Halevi took charge of the site.
“There was quiet agreement on a number of issues – including allowing Muslims to pray in the synagogue again [Temple Mount’s] The Golden Gate, and Jews were quietly allowed to pray, “Glick said in a phone call.
The activist criticized Barlev for what he said were unreasonable restrictions on Jewish visiting hours at the holy site. “They limit the size of the groups we are allowed to take, they prevent prayer, there are more arrests and instructions forbidding Jews [from visiting] – We have not seen it for a while. “