Ben-Gvir’s provocative visit to ‘Temple Mount’ confirms fears of new Israeli government

Itamar Ben-Gvir (Ilia Yefimovich - APA Images)

James North

Mondoweiss  /  January 3, 2023

It didn’t take long for Israel’s new far-right, Jewish-supremacist government to confirm the fears that it happily risks triggering a Third Intifada.

Yesterday, the new national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir fulfilled his promise to march provocatively up to the area in Jerusalem’s Old City that most Jewish Israelis call “the Temple Mount.” His move predictably triggered outrage among Palestinians, Muslims and Arab leaders, which call the site the Haram al-Sharif, and even concern from the United States and Israel’s normal allies.

Palestinian resistance organizations, including Hamas, warned that Ben-Gvir’s visit could lead to “an explosion.” Haaretz, the respected Israeli daily, quoted a chilling response from Zvika Fogel, a pro-government member of the Knesset in Ben-Gvir’s far-right party:

If Hamas violates the current existing peace and opens fire on Israeli territory we will respond as I think we should, and yes it would be worth it because this will be the last war and after that we can sit and raise doves and all the other beautiful birds that exist.”

You are unlikely to read such statements in the U.S. mainstream media.

Unclear U.S. reporting over the years has probably confused your average American. Let’s start with one of the area’s names: Temple Mount, a location that many Jews contend was the site of 2 ancient Jewish temples. (The second was destroyed by the Romans, in 70 AD.) The archeological evidence is apparently inconclusive, in part because no excavations have been done on the site. No matter: people can certainly hold a site sacred without historical proof. 

What is clear is that sitting right there today is Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which includes a mosque: Al-Aqsa, completed 1265 years ago, and the even older shrine called the Dome of the Rock, which dates to the year 691. Muslims also regard the area as one of their holiest sites. What may not be understood by outsiders is that some Jewish extremists say they want to destroy or remove those two ancient buildings, and replace them with the Third Jewish Temple. “Time of Favor,” an Israeli feature film that came out in 2000, depicted the threat. In the film, Rabbi Meltzer runs a yeshiva, or religious school, in occupied West Bank Palestine. He is clearly modeled after Meir Kahane, the extremist religious leader who is one of security minister Ben-Gvir’s inspirations and heroes. 

The movie turns on the conflict between two of Meltzer’s students: Manacham, the commander of the yeshiva’s own Israeli army unit; and Pini, a dislikeable nerd and even by the occupation’s standards, a fanatic. Pini, devoted to the Rabbi, plots with others to use suicide bombs to actually blow up the Dome of the Rock. In the end, Menacham turns on his friend, and with help from Israeli security officers and other Israeli commandos they thwart the dangerous plot at the last minute. (Palestinians appear almost nowhere in the film.)

In fairness, the number of Jewish Israelis who actually want to destroy the 2 buildings is surely very low. But just about every Palestinian must be aware that these kind of poisonous attitudes are actually alive. How would the French feel if even a small extremist group wanted to destroy Notre Dame Cathedral, and put another religion’s shrine in its place? (Notre Dame is 4 centuries younger than the buildings in Al-Aqsa Mosque compound).

And even if you discount the physical danger to the buildings, Palestinians remain under occupation, which is about to get even worse. The death toll in the West Bank reached its highest level last year since 2005. Israel’s hardline former Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, even warned: “Netanyahu, you received a mandate to form a coalition, not leave our security in the hands of arsonists who support Jewish terrorism.”

Let’s close with an eloquent explanation last year from Hanin Majadli, a Palestinian citizen of Israel: “What Jewish Israelis don’t get about Al-Aqsa.” She wrote:

[Al-Aqsa] is no longer just an ordinary mosque and the connection to it is no longer religious. It serves as a symbol of Palestinian national victory over Jewish ultranationalism. This victory is achieved thanks to the fact that the area of Al-Aqsa is the only place that Israel refrains from controlling, and that situation is enshrined in law. . . The determination of the east Jerusalemites, and their battle against the clubs and grenades of the police forces, have become a symbol of effective resistance as well as conveying a clear message: ‘We won’t allow you to control Al-Aqsa, because it is the last piece remaining under Palestinian control, and no Palestinian will give it up.’     

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large