Wall Street Journal: Shooting in Jerusalem Pushes Jewish Prayer Issue to Fore
Attack on Yehuda Glick Galvanizes Advocates of Returning Jewish Prayer to Temple Mount
Israeli parliament member Moshe Feiglin, walks near the Western Wall after visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. REUTERS
By NICHOLAS CASEY and JOSHUA MITNICK
Nov. 4, 2014 7:30 p.m. ET
JERUSALEM—When a motorcyclist fired three bullets into the upper body of Yehuda Glick last week, the shooting forced what has long been a fringe campaign into the center of public debate: returning Jewish prayer to one of the region’s holiest sites.
The American-born Mr. Glick, an activist who regularly defied the ban on Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, was severely wounded in the attack. Just minutes before, he had spoken at a meeting promoting greater Jewish access to the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.
His supporters called for thousands of Jerusalemites, rabbis and politicians to rally at the hilltop site on Wednesday andThursday.
Since conquering the site in 1967, the government has banned prayers there to avoid violence and allowed a Muslim religious authority to manage daily operations. The Jewish religious establishment has told Jews to avoid entering the site for fear of desecrating the site of the ancient temple that once stood there. The consensus over who prays at the sacred site held for decades through bomb plots by Jewish militants in the 1980s.
But the situation on the Temple Mount is beginning to change. Jewish extremists have been replaced by activists who say prayer there is a civil-rights issue. Some rabbis have reconsidered the bans. Some right-wing lawmakers see it as a political issue and are promoting legislation to declare Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount.
“There is a growing trend with Jewish rabbis now to show a presence on the Temple Mount as an act of political protest,” says Yitzhak Reiter, a political scientist at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, a think tank. “They are creating new facts on the ground.”
Accompanied by armed guards, Moshe Feiglin, a member of Israel’s parliament who is pushing to change the laws, led a group Sunday to the site where he decried what he called “Muslim rabble” that he said had threatened Jews. Mr. Feiglin said that the Jewish prayer ban couldn’t continue and that “the giving up of Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount will lead to conceding Jerusalem and the whole country.”
The shooting last week prompted Israelis to close the Temple Mount for the first time since 2000, when Ariel Sharon, then a candidate for prime minister, led dozens of his supporters onto the site, leading to riots that helped trigger the second Palestinian uprising. Thursday’s closure prompted clashes throughout the city.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would oppose changes to the prayer rules to maintain calm not just in Jerusalem, but also among Israel’s Arab neighbors. They fear that any relaxing of the ban will lead to Israel’s complete takeover of the site, which is considered the third-holiest site in Islam.
The issue of Jewish prayer on Temple Mount has come into focus at a dangerous time for Israel. Hamas, the Islamist political and militant group that has ruled the Gaza Strip for seven years, waged a war with Israel this summer. About 2,100 Palestinians and 73 on the Israeli side were killed.
Jerusalem is still reeling after a Palestinian teenager was burned alive this summer in a revenge killing for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by two suspected members of Hamas. Daily unrest has included gasoline bombs, clashes with police and Palestinians, and an attack at a light-rail station that left a baby and a 22-year-old woman dead. In response, Israel wants to raise the penalty for rock throwing to a maximum 20-year jail sentence. Israel and the Palestinians have abandoned peace talks, escalating the risk that their dispute will be redefined as more than a political one, David Makovsky says.
“The conflict is solvable if it is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but if it morphs into a Muslim-Jewish conflict, it’s a religious conflict that’s harder to solve,” says Mr. Makovsky, a former U.S. diplomat and analyst at think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
While he warned that many dire predictions about uprisings in Jerusalem failed to come true, this year is different because of the volatile situation created by lack of negotiations. “There is a vacuum now,” he said. “Whenever there is a vacuum, a lot of people try to fill it.”
Mr. Glick came to Israel as a child from Brooklyn. Born into a moderate family headed by a doctor, Mr. Glick eventually moved to a settlement in the West Bank, said his brother Yaakov Glick.
He joined the Temple Institute a decade ago and then struck out alone to start a group to lobby for prayer rights.
Before ascending the hilltop, religious Jews are checked to make sure they have no prayer books, and authorities explain the rules meant to ban any sign of Jewish ritual: no bowing down; no swaying; no silent movement of lips; no closing of the eyes for an extended period. At the site, religious Jews are monitored by security guards.
Yaakov Glick says his brother had been marked by police as a provocateur, and officials got restraining orders to prevent him entering and once accused Mr. Glick of pushing an Arab.
“The police did not like him going up on the Temple Mount,” he said this week after waiting at the hospital intensive unit where his brother was being treated. “So instead of taking care of the people making the noise they kind of pushed him away.”
Police declined to comment on Mr. Glick’s case.
Yaakov Glick said his brother had received multiple threats onFacebook in the weeks leading up to the attack, and the family knew he was at risk.
The Temple Institute says it isn’t inciting extremism but advocating for civil rights. Rabbi Chaim Richman, its director, said the group seeks to allow worship for all faiths, including Christians, at the site—something he says should be allowed in Israel because it is “a shining bastion of democracy.” Instead, Mr. Richman says, “we are followed, we are monitored, we are photographed.”
Mr. Richman envisions more than just religious rights, saying that the goal of Judaism is that the temple be physically rebuilt. Inside the building of the Temple Institute, which sits a few hundred yards from the Western Wall, framed paintings depict a new temple where the Dome of the Rock stands surrounded by modern Jerusalem. A display holds vessels to one day be used in rituals there.
Douglas Altabef, another activist, said his friend Mr. Glick had become an object of discrimination by his own country.
“You’re suppressed as a Jew if you go up there,” he said. “Frankly the big resistance of change is coming from the prime minister. I don’t know what his fear is.”