An extremist Israeli cabinet minister visits a sensitive Jerusalem holy site

Jerusalem — An extremist Israeli cabinet minister visited a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem on Sunday amid heightened tensions with the Palestinians.

The visit by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, his second known visit since becoming part of Israel’s most right-wing government ever, drew condemnation from the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbor Jordan, which acts as the site’s custodian.

“I am happy to come up to the Temple Mount, the most important place for the Israeli people,” Ben-Gvir said during his early morning visit to the site, with the golden Dome of the Rock in the background, according to the video released. by his office. He praised the police presence at the scene, saying it “proves who is in charge in Jerusalem.”

Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh called Ben-Gvir’s visit a “blatant attack” on the mosque. Jordan’s foreign ministry called it a “provocative move that is condemned and a dangerous and unacceptable escalation.”

The visit came days after Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day, which commemorates Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Flag-waving nationalists marched through the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City, some singing racist anti-Arab chants, as hundreds of Jews visited the sensitive hilltop shrine, including a low-level minister from Ben-Gvir’s party, but not Ben-Gvir. himself.

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Later on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is expected to hold an emergency meeting to mark the occasion near the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews to pray and the remaining outer wall of biblical temples.

The hilltop site known to Jews as the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site and home to ancient biblical temples. Today, it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Since Israel occupied the site in 1967, Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there.

The ultranationalist Ben-Gvir, along with a growing movement of activists, has long called for greater Jewish access to the holy site.

Palestinians see the mosque as a national symbol and consider such visits provocative and a potential precursor to Israel taking control of the building. Most rabbis forbid Jews to pray at the site, but in recent years there has been a growing movement among Jews who support worshiping there.

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The tension in the disputed complex fueled past violence. The then opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit in September 2000 helped spark the clashes that became the second Palestinian uprising. Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in and around the site fueled an 11-day war against Hamas in 2021.

In the 1967 Middle East War, Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, home to the holy sites of three monotheistic religions, as well as the rest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians are seeking these lands for the creation of a future independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move unknown to most of the international community and considers the city its undivided, eternal capital.

Violence between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank has spiked over the past year, with Israel launching almost nightly raids in response to Palestinian attacks.

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Since the spring of 2022, more than 250 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire. About 50 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

Israel says most of the Palestinians killed were gunmen, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and people not involved in the confrontation were also killed.

At the beginning of the month, fighting also broke out between Israel and the militants in the Gaza Strip. 33 people died in the Israeli strikes, many of them armed, but also women and children, and two people in Israel lost their lives in armed rocket fire.


Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.