Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on Tuesday to ban Jews from visiting the Temple Mount until the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as a way to contain the ongoing escalation at Al-Aqsa mosque following last week's clashes.
Beginning on Wednesday, Jews will be prevented from ascending the Temple Mount for the last 10 days of Ramadan, considered the most holy month in Islam. During this period, Muslim worshipers traditionally spend the night at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Netanyahu’s decision was taken following a recommendation to ban Jews during this period by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet director Ronen Bar. Only far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir objected.
Israeli authorities reported that 748 Jews had visited the site on Tuesday. In total, 3,013 Jews visited the mount during the Passover week, a 32% increase compared to the same period last year.
Netanyahu’s decision comes amid growing tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City after two incidents where Israeli police raided Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, claiming that worshipers barricaded themselves at the Haram al-Sharif compound.
The first incident took place last Wednesday, on the eve of Passover, with police using stun grenades inside Al-Aqsa. Police claimed that the people barricaded had amassed firecrackers and stones in order to hurt Jewish visitors. The crackdown generated angry reactions from across the Arab world, the European Union and France. Hundreds of Palestinians were detained following the clashes, with most released shortly after. Fifteen Palestinians were charged Tuesday for breaking public order.
On Friday morning, Israeli police dispersed the worshippers without using force. Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians also increased last week over two deadly terror attacks, resulting in three Israeli women killed in the Jordan valley and one Italian tourist killed in Tel Aviv.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israel over the weekend, as did Hamas factions in Lebanon. No rockets were fired on Sunday and Monday. Still, despite the relative calm, the government took its time deciding to prevent visits of Jews for the last day of Passover (Wednesday) and following days, announcing the decision only in the evening.
After Netanyahu’s announcement, Ben-Gvir said, "The decision of the prime minister to close Temple Mount for Jews because of the terror wave is a serious error which will not bring calm, but on the contrary escalate the situation."
In contrast, Israel’s Chief rabbi Isaac Joseph praised the decision, noting that Jewish tradition prohibits the ascension of Jews to the site in any case, and that provocation should absolutely be avoided.