JERUSALEM (JTA) – An Arab-Israeli Knesset member visited the Temple Mount, going against a directive issued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Basel Ghattas of the Arab Joint List visited the Temple Mount on Wednesday. Ghattas, who is Christian, said after his visit that he saw Jews praying at the site who were not stopped by police standing nearby, and alleges that this is a violation of the status quo.
Ghattas posted a video on Facebook of himself on the Temple Mount. “Netanyahu and Israel cannot prevent us from visiting the mosque and Israel continues to change the status quo and increase the occupation’s sovereignty over the site,” he said. “Visiting Al-Aqsa is my basic and elementary right,” he told Ynet after the visit, adding: “this holy place will always remain Islamic and Arabic.”
Netanyahu responded to the visit, saying in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon: “The Temple Mount has been quiet for two weeks. We are making every effort to maintain this quiet, but it would seem that someone is disturbed by this. MK Ghattas went up to the Temple Mount, went to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. I assure you he did not do it in order to pray, he did it solely for the purpose of provocation, only to inflame the situation.
“I will not let any Knesset member or minister ignite the Temple Mount, and I call on all members of the Knesset and public figures in general to act responsibly, especially at this time,” Netanyahu said.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu reprimanded Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who said in an interview that it was her dream to see an Israeli flag fly on the site.
The ban on Knesset members visiting the site was issued on Oct. 7, and clarified the following day to make it clear that it referred to all MKs, not just Jewish ones.
“The decision stems from the intention to cool the atmosphere around the Temple Mount,” the announcement said.
The recent wave of Palestinian violence against Israeli targets has come amid a backdrop of tensions at the Temple Mount over non-Muslim visits and what the Arab world claims is an attempt to “Judaize” the site, the location of the Jewish people’s two Holy Temples. Netanyahu has said repeatedly that Israel will maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount, under which Jews are allowed to enter the site but are not allowed to pray. The site is administered by Jordan under the direction of the Muslim Waqf.