For many activists, ascending Temple Mount for Tisha B’Av an act of defiance

JTA – Sirens sounded near Jerusalem on Sunday as rockets fired from Gaza entered Israel in response to a military strike targeting the Islamic Jihad terror group.

But near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, other sounds prevailed: the loud singing of Jewish men who had climbed there in honor of the Day of Mourning, having previously sparked conflict; Strong warnings from police officers against prayer; And the Muslim women and children cried out.

The scene takes place on the 10th of AV, one day after the 9th of AV, which marks many things, but most importantly the destruction of the two Jewish temples (Jewish tradition commands that fasting be done when there are days of fasting on the Sabbath or after the Sabbath, with the exception of Yom Kippur except).

The Temple Mount is open to people of all backgrounds, but only Muslims are allowed to pray there. Tourists were present Sunday along with people participating in the holiday pilgrimage, including far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben Gavir, American Jewish far-right pundit Ben Shapiro and a group of Texas Christians invested in seeing the temple rebuilt. A place where all can pray.

“There must be no ritual!” A policeman told a group of about 30 Jews, almost every one a man, before he waved them through the Mughrabi Gate into the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.

But the group’s presence was itself a ritual, designed to destroy the Temple, pray for its rebuilding, and demonstrate Jewish affiliation and control over the site. For these men, walking across the plateau, some in shod, others in their bare feet, is resistance and prayer.

Clashes between reporters and police escalated on Sunday as Israel launched fresh clashes in Gaza on Friday and a terrorist group that Israeli officials claim has launched guided missiles at Israeli targets, targeting Islamic Jihad. The Iran-backed group fired hundreds of unguided rockets at Israel in retaliation, and sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area on Sunday morning.

Far-right MK Itmar Ben Gvir speaks to reporters as he arrives to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on August 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitosi/Flash90)

The sirens didn’t go off near the Temple Mount, but the threat they posed was very much in the air. Israeli officials want to continue fighting Islamic Jihad and prevent Hamas from joining. Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Strip, has so far appeared to be happy with Israel’s destruction of its rival, but in the past has joined attacks on Israel it sees as Jewish encroachment on Muslim areas. Temple Mount. Security officials were keeping a close eye on the Tisha B’av event, Israeli media reported.

The charge to prevent their pilgrimage from escalating an already volatile situation manifested itself in the jostling and tension between the Jewish narrators and the police officers.

“We’ll be quiet, we’ll be quiet,” Yehuda Ben David, 18, told a policeman who threatened to cut short the visit as the chant “Take comfort, comfort my love” began to blare. The singing became less shrill. Then, the officer got busy on his walkie-talkie and Ben David led the group in a new song pleading for the rebuilding of the temple.

Elchanan Nonhite, a nursing student, was one of 2,000 people waiting for police in a group of 30 or 40 to walk the perimeter of Mt. He said he understood that mass entry would lead to all-out war, but it only intensified his resolve to claim the Temple Mount and the entire country for Jews.

Elhanan Nonheit was one of the Jewish pilgrims who climbed the Temple Mount on August 7, 2022. The police asked him to remove his provocative sticker. (Ron Campias/JTA)

“You can’t deny the connection” between large-scale Jewish Temple Mount events and the threat of violence, he said, “but look, they closed the Jewish areas around Gaza,” he said, referring to Israeli orders from residents of the area. Stay indoors until the risk of rocket fire subsides. “It’s a reality — if we can’t be on the Temple Mount, we can’t be anywhere,” he said.

Nonhite had a sticker on his T-shirt that read, “I also climbed the Temple Mount,” in Hebrew. As Mughrabi approached the gate, an officer ordered him to be removed.

Ascending from the Western Wall Plaza and the Mughrabi Gate, several conflicting rules rang out in waves pleading with the wooden risers. Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a former Knesset member and president of the Shalom Jerusalem Foundation, which organizes the pilgrimage, walked up and down the line of supplicants waiting to enter, reminding them of the requirements for attendance at the Temple Mount: bathe in a mikveh, or spring, or sea before a ritual. And no leather footwear.

A smattering of Orthodox Jews who still adhere to rabbinical rules prohibiting entry to the Mount, on the grounds of the risk of passing through the Holy Land, tried to engage with those waiting in line for all but the purest of priests. He offered flyers to the petitioners and politely reminded them that current and former chief rabbis opposed entry to the Temple Mount.

Most commentators ignore the traditionalists, but cite one or two competing rulings, sometimes from the same rabbi. There were rapid-fire exchanges, citing ancient sages, and sometimes devolving into debates about piety. “You are ignorant!” shouted one of the Temple Mount supplicants to the young traditionalist, who was sitting on a ledge overlooking the line.

Outside the Mughrabi Gate, Glick’s people ruled, and he felt it. Arriving before 5 am, he was the first to climb the mountain and showered the others with praise for making the pilgrimage.

In an interview, he recalled how his followers once outnumbered conservatives and now conservatives outnumbered him.

“In 1989, when I started going to the Temple Mount, there were a couple of us who went up and hundreds of people told me we were not allowed. Now we’re going up to the thousands and one or two people can move around [saying] They are not allowed,” he said.

A screen capture from a video shows Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick, center right, leading a tour of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 29, 2022. (Facebook)

He introduced reporters to a group of Texan Christians who had joined him on his tour, representing his hope that the rebuilt temple would have areas open to all for prayer, as it had before it was destroyed two millennia ago.

“This will soon be a house of prayer for all nations,” said Steve Werp, a Dallas-area resident who imports Israeli settlement goods into the United States. “And we must understand that when the Temple was destroyed, it was not just a loss to the Jewish people, it was a loss to the entire world.”

Werp said he was leading a group of about 200 Christians — about 30 of whom were with him in Jerusalem on Sunday — who were fasting for Tisha B’Av. “A dry fast,” he said, grimacing. They call themselves “Ninth of the Nations of AV”.

As the supplicants mount the wooden risers, they bypass Glick’s encouragement and move to a reality that is wary, if not outright hostile, among Muslims, the police. As a group of 30 or so people were ushered into a waiting area displaying a model of the rebuilt temple, a tall man asked, “How many years has it been since the temple was destroyed?” When no one answered, he asked again. “1,954,” one man finally answered.

The police investigation was intense. A policeman advised the men not to draw attention to themselves when they toured the scene. A second officer, wearing sunglasses, warned the man who was singing loudly to keep quiet. The man in the red sun hat let out a sound, but a third officer, who had been tracking the group with a video camera, ran to his colleague and said he caught the man in the red hat in prayer. The policeman demanded to see the man’s identity card and let him off with a warning.

Leaders emerge organically in groups of strangers, and Yehuda Ben David, 18, was a natural. He started humming and then singing at the top of his voice, and then the others followed suit. Muslim women sitting in the shade of trees chanted “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is great,” and a group of children joined in.

Echoing every parent who said “I’ll stop this car” to discipline the kids, the policeman pointed to a gate and said, “I got another group out of here early and I’ll do the same to you.”

“We’ll be quiet, we’ll be quiet,” Ben David said, and the group followed his lead and kept quiet—but soon began singing again. Ben David encountered the Dome of the Rock mosque, which occupies part of the site where the Temple is believed to have stood, and quickly “snipped” away, making the moving movements of Orthodox Jews in prayer; Others followed.

As the group approached the chain gate, where the walk ended, the men became less shy and sang loudly. Some of them bowed to the Dome of the Rock as they retreated, an ancient way of not turning their backs on the sanctity of the temple. The police overpowered them and pushed them out of the gate. The man in the red hat fell to the ground and kissed him, and the police picked him up and carried him out.

Outside the gate, in a narrow plaza leading to the Arab bazaar, the men joined in the prayer of “The Temple shall be rebuilt” and then the Shema.

Ben David, a Hada teenager, said he was happy with his leadership. He pulled the wool over the policeman’s eyes, he said: He kept the group quiet until the policeman was late on his threat to cut short the visit.

Also the women who shouted Allahu Akbar? “We showed them who was in charge.”

Outside the chain gate, there were some scuffles between police and Jewish reporters, police and some Palestinian protesters. The appearance of far-right Knesset member Ben Gvir, who regularly visits the Temple Mount during the provocation, exchanged shouts with Muslim worshippers.

Shapiro, a prominent US Jewish conservative, also visited the Temple Mount. “This is unbelievable!” He praised the Israeli right-wing media. On Twitter, he emphasized that, contrary to the characterizations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Jews on the Temple Mount on Sunday were rarely “storming al-Aqsa,” the Arabic name for the Dome of the Rock.

The morning ended without Hamas entering the conflict, a victory for the Israeli security establishment.

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