Temple activists are accusing the police of closing the Mount unnecessarily throughout most of the month of Ramadan, including for two whole weeks, thus discriminating against non-Muslims seeking to visit the site.
The Knesset's Internal Affairs and Environment Committee discussed the matter on Sunday morning, despite the parliament recess, as well as the prayer ban imposed on Jews at the holy site throughout the entire year. Yehuda Glick of Organization of Temple Movements said the Mount had been closed to Jews for 21 days last month.
According to Glick, the situation affected some 1,000 foreign tourists who missed the highlight of their visit to Israel, as well as two Knesset members – Zeev Elkin (Likud Beiteinu) and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) – who were not allowed into the Mount.
"We are just before the holiday season, and our experience shows that there are thousands of Jews who wish to visit the Temple Mount during the intermediate days of Sukkot, but time and again we reach a situation in which they are blocked," said Glick, calling on the police to commit to allowing every person to do so during defined visiting hours.
"Prepare in advance, so that you can't say that there are too many visitors or that it’s a sensitive situation," he added. "You're not doing the Jews a favor. It's our basic right and it must be respected –without disrespecting anyone else of course."
The police's representative at the Knesset meeting, David District Commander Moshe Bareket, said the prayer ban was a decision of the political echelon, but MKs and members of the Temple movement said the government had never been made such a decision.
Committee Chairwoman MK Miri Regev (Likud Beiteinu) criticized the fact that the prime minister had not sent a representative to the discussion to set the record straight.
As for the decision to close the Mount to Jews during the days of the Ramadan, the district commander said that the lenient policy of letting Palestinians into the site had created security alerts, and that it was therefore decided to prevent Jews or non-Muslim tourists from visiting the site in the last 10 days of the month, when it was filled with worshippers.
A message which arrived from Shin Bet Director Yoram Cohen in the middle of the meeting clarified that the security agency had not relayed any intelligence information or any recommendations regarding the entry of Jews. Commander Bareket responded by saying that the information had come from the police, not from the Shin Bet.
'Don't visit Mount until Temple rebuilt'
The discussion also focused on the religious aspects of visiting the Temple Mount. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, said that the Chief Rabbinate's stand had always been that Jews must not visit the Mount until the Temple is rebuilt on it, due to the site's sanctity.
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) also called for maintaining the status quo, which defines hours during which Jews are allowed to visit the Mount every day but prevents them from praying there, yet the reasons he cited were political.
The Religious Services Ministry's stance, as presented during the discussion by Deputy Director-General Moshe Dagan, is that praying on the mount should be regulated as well – in favor of those who do visit the site.
MK Orit Strock (Habayit Hayehudi) said the current situation violates both human rights for freedom of religion and Israel's national dignity. She suggested creating coexistence at the Temple Mount as customary at the Cave of the Patriarchs, which is open all year round to both Jewish and Muslim worshippers.