Far-right minister says Israel ‘in charge’ on visit to Jerusalem holy site

Ben Lynfield

The Guardian  /  May 21, 2023 

Comments by Itamar Ben-Gvir draw condemnation from Palestinians amid escalating tensions.

Israel’s far-right security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited a site in Jerusalem holy to both Muslims and Jews and declared Israel was “in charge”, drawing condemnation from Palestinians after months of escalating tension and violence.

The early morning visit to the site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the compound housing al-Aqsa mosque, also drew denunciations from two of Israel’s Arab peace partners [sic], Jordan and Egypt.

It came days after groups of Jewish youths clashed with Palestinians and chanted racist slogans during a nationalist march through the Old City.

“I am glad to ascend the Temple Mount, the most important place for the nation of Israel,” Ben-Gvir said during his visit to the compound, the most sensitive point between Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem and the scene of repeated confrontations. Police are doing wonderful work here and again giving a reminder of who the master of the house is in Jerusalem. All of Hamas’s threats won’t help. We are the masters of Jerusalem and all of the land of Israel.”

According to arrangements in place since Israel occupied the site along with the rest of East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, Jews are allowed to visit but only Muslims can pray there. To Jews, it is revered as the site of the ancient temples, while Muslims consider it as the place from which the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

In recent years, Jewish visits and calls for Jewish prayer have increased, fueling Muslim fears of a takeover. At the same time, police have grown increasingly lax in enforcing the ban on Jewish worship and often have not stopped Jews from praying in the eastern corner of the compound. They do this by reading from their mobile phones, rather than prayer books – which is what Ben-Gvir did on Sunday. The moment was captured on video.

Ben-Gvir, who was elected last November promising to push for Jewish prayer at the site, is considered by many to be the most extremist Israeli politician and has a long history of Arab baiting. For many years, he displayed prominently in his home a picture of Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli gunman who killed 29 Palestinians during mosque prayers in Hebron in 1994.

Ben-Gvir also called for more funding to enable a ministry controlled by his Jewish Power party to increase the number of Jews in parts of Israel with large Arab populations, the Negev and the Galilee. “We have to act there, we have to be the masters also of the Negev [Naqab] and the Galilee,” he said.

Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the PLO executive committee, said the visit offended Muslims worldwide and predicted it could destabilize the region by boosting Islamic fundamentalists.

Majdalani, who is also Palestinian minister of social development, called Ben-Gvir’s visit “a provocative expression by the Israeli government as a whole, not just an individual expression by Ben-Gvir. It is official policy to harm the feelings of Muslims worldwide, particularly Palestinians. We warn that if this continues, then it changes the situation from a political conflict to a religious one that cannot be controlled. The danger of this to the region cannot be overestimated.”

Jordan, which was granted a special role at Islamic sites in Jerusalem in its 1994 peace treaty with Israel was fierce in its condemnation. “The storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the violation of its sanctity by an Israeli cabinet minister are condemned and provocative acts,” said the ministry of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs spokesperson Sinan Majali. “They represent a blatant violation of international law, as well as the historical and legal status quo in Jerusalem and its holy sites.”

Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, which includes Al-Aqsa and the adjacent Western Wall, a sacred place of prayer for Jews, during the 1967 Middle Eastern war.

Israel has since annexed East Jerusalem, in a move not recognized by the international community, and regards the entire city as its eternal and undivided capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Ben Lynfield is a journalist based in Jerusalem


Israel far-right minister visits Al-Aqsa compound

Al-Jazeera  /  May 21, 2023

Visit by Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir comes days after thousands of Jewish nationalists marched through Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has entered Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem and declared Israel “in charge”, drawing condemnation from Palestinians after months of escalating tension and violence.

The comments during his early morning visit on Sunday to the compound came days after groups of Jewish youths scuffled with Palestinians and chanted racist slogans during the annual far-right “Flag March” through the Old City.

The event, held on “Jerusalem Day”, which marks the 1967 capture and annexation of East Jerusalem, a move considered illegal under international law, has led to violence in recent years, as far-right Israelis shout provocative slogans and insults, as well as physically attack Palestinians and even journalists.

“I’m happy to ascend the Temple Mount, the most important place for the people of Israel,” Ben-Gvir said during his visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, also known as Al-Haram al-Sharif by Muslims and the Temple Mount by Jews.

In 2021, tensions around Al-Aqsa were followed by an 11-day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which controls the Strip, has warned repeatedly that it would react to what it sees as Jewish incursions on the site, which stands in Jordanian custodianship under a long-standing “status quo” arrangement put in place to contain tensions.

“All the threats from Hamas will not help, we are in charge here in Jerusalem and all of the land of Israel,” said Ben-Gvir, who has repeatedly visited the compound.

Under the status quo arrangements, non-Muslims may visit the site in the heart of the Old City but are not allowed to pray. However, Jewish visitors have been increasingly defying the ban, more or less openly.

Increasing anger

Palestinians consider defiance of the ban on prayer as a provocation and fear that Israel intends to take over the site.

The increased number of ultranationalist Jews entering the compound, and the frequent storming of the site by Israeli security forces, including inside the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa Mosque, has increased Palestinian anger.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Ben-Gvir’s “incursion at an early hour, like thieves, into Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyards will not change the reality and will not impose Israeli sovereignty over it”.

A Hamas spokesman said Israel would bear the consequences for Ben-Gvir’s “savage assault” on the mosque and it called on Palestinians to step up their visits and “stand as a rampart in the face of all attempts to defile it and make it Jewish.”

Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, which includes Al-Aqsa and the adjacent Western Wall, a sacred place of prayer for Jews, during the 1967 Middle Eastern war.

Israel has since annexed East Jerusalem, in a move not recognized by the international community, and regards the entire city as its eternal and undivided capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

In a statement on Sunday, the United States said it was concerned by Ben-Gvir’s “provocative visit and accompanying inflammatory rhetoric”. It reaffirmed US support for the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.

“This holy space should not be used for political purposes, and we call on all parties to respect its sanctity,” State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said in the statement.


Jerusalem: Itamar Ben-Gvir declares Israel ‘in charge’ of Al-Aqsa during visit

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  May 21, 2023

Hamas slams visit by far-right minister, which comes days after ultra-nationalist march through Jerusalem.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister, declared “we’re in charge here” as he and a group of supporters entered Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday morning.

The visit to the site, called the Temple Mount by Jews and thought of as the holiest site in Judaism, will be seen as a provocative move by Palestinians and comes just days after thousands of Jewish ultra-nationalists marched through occupied East Jerusalem on the annual “flag march” demonstration.

“I’m happy to be ascending the Temple Mount, the most important site to the Jewish people,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement. “We’re in charge here.”

Israeli police said the trip passed without incident. According to Haaretz, Ben-Gvir did not coordinate the visit with the Jordanian Waqf, the body that nominally oversees the site.

Al-Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic site where unsolicited visits, prayers and rituals by non-Muslims are forbidden, according to decades-long international agreements. 

Israeli groups, in coordination with authorities, have long violated the delicate arrangement and facilitated raids of the site and performed prayers and religious rituals. 

Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, strongly criticized Sunday’s visit by the Israeli nationalist leader.

The group wrote on Telegram that Israel would “bear responsibility for the barbaric incursions of its ministers and herds of settlers”, and said the move “confirms the depths of danger looming over Al-Aqsa, under this Zionist fascist government and the arrogance of its ministers from the extreme right”.

On Thursday, Ben-Gvir and other far-right ministers and lawmakers joined the divisive “Flag March” in East Jerusalem, which saw Israeli police officers and ultra-nationalists assaulting Palestinians and journalists.

Marchers threw stones at a Middle East Eye reporter and other journalists covering the gathering in the Damascus Gate area near the Old City.

At least two journalists were hit in the head and wounded.

Dozens of participants were carrying the black flag of the racist far-right Lehava group while chanting “your village will be burnt”.

Elsewhere, ultra-nationalists marching through the Old City’s Muslim quarter beat Palestinian residents, leading to some scuffles. Israeli police intervened by assaulting Palestinians who were already under attack.


‘We are in charge here’ declares Ben-Gvir on visit to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque

Khaled Yacoub Oweis

The National  /  March 21, 2023

Visit by the National Security Minister comes after Israeli nationalists march in the Muslim quarter of the city.

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Sunday visited Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem as tension remained high following five days of fighting with militants in Gaza.

“We are in charge here,” Ben-Gvir was quoted by Israel media as saying on his tour of the site, holy to Jews and Muslims.

The visit came eight days after Israel and militants in Gaza, supported by Iran, agreed to a truce that halted cross-border attacks by the two sides.

Among the dead were three commanders of Islamic Jihad, which also has offices in Damascus.

Israeli actions against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank have accelerated since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took power in December.

Ben-Gvir described the compound as “the most important place for the Jewish people”. The site is mostly administered by Palestinian staff employed by the Jordanian Religious Affairs ministry.

The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Israeli authorities to halt escalation and avoid exacerbating tension and instability in the region.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the visit as a “provocation against the feelings of Muslims.”

It said the kingdom “holds Israel responsible for the impact of these transgressions.”

In Amman, Jordan’s Foreign ministry spokesman Sinan al-Majali said the visit was “a dangerous escalation”, describing the compound as “purely a Muslim place of worship”.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and claims custodianship of Al-Aqsa, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

It was the second visit by Ben-Gvir to the disputed site in occupied East Jerusalem since January.

Ben-Gvir’s first visit prompted a meeting of the UN Security Council. A UN official said at the session that the visit was “inflammatory”.

On Thursday, thousands of people carrying Israeli flags marched in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City to celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. Israel captured the West Bank at the same time.

They marched into the walled city through Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Muslim Quarter, as Palestinians closed their shops and were banned from the gate, to make way for the marchers. Some of the marchers attacked journalists with rocks and bottles, according to Agence France-Presse.

Israeli police said they made two arrests over the attack, one of an adult and one of a child.

In 2021, a similar march, as well as tension related to Al-Aqsa, led to an 11-day war between Israel and militant group Hamas, the most powerful Palestinian faction in Gaza.

The confrontation resulted in the deaths of 260 Palestinians, mostly in Gaza, and 12 Israelis.

Khaled Yacoub Oweis – Jordan correspondent