JERUSALEM – A group that led a Jewish protest at the Temple Mount last month in hopes of reclaiming the site from its Islamic custodians has expressed disappointment that U.S. First Lady Laura Bush, who arrives here tomorrow, plans to visit the Mount to honor Muslim tradition.
Bush, touring Jordan today, arrives in Israel tomorrow as part of a wider Middle East tour aimed at advancing regional peace and encouraging Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in accordance with the U.S.-backed road map.
According to Israeli media reports, the First Lady will visit the Temple Mount, among other religious sites.
U.S. officials said Bush had requested activities to honor Israel’s three religions during her Israel visit. She will tour the Western Wall to pay respects to Judaism, visit a church in Jericho to honor Christianity, and ascend the Temple Mount to express good will toward Islam, said an official.
But David Ha’ivri, director of Revava, a Jewish Temple Mount activist group, said he is concerned Bush’s visit will be perceived as official American recognition of Islamic control of the Mount.
“It’s a major misconception,” Ha’ivri told WND. “Many think the Temple Mount is the holy place of Muslims and the Kotel (Western Wall) is the holy place for Jews. No, the Kotel is only holy because it’s part of a retaining wall for the Temple Mount, which itself is the holiest place for Jews. It was the location of our first and second Temples, and will be the site of our third.”
Ha’ivri continued: “On her visit to the most holy place on earth for Jews – the Temple Mount – we are calling on Mrs. Bush to demand freedom of access to Jewish worshipers and open a dialogue to return the Temple Mount to its rightful owners, the Jews.”
Ha’ivri last month sparked international dialogue when he announced plans to bring 10,000 Jews to the Temple Mount, prompting Muslims throughout the Middle East to hold demonstrations against Jewish claims to the site.
On the protest day, only about 200 Jewish protesters were allowed past intense security, which included over 3,500 Israeli police stationed at checkpoints and entrances throughout the Old City, the walled section of Jerusalem that encompasses the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until September 2000, when the Palestinians started their planned intifada by throwing stones at Jewish worshipers after then-candidate for prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the area.
Following the onset of violence, the new Sharon government closed the Mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic for fear of further clashes with the Palestinians.
The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003. It is still open but only Sundays through Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., and not on any Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays or other days considered “sensitive” by the Waqf, the Muslim custodians of the Temple Mount.
During “open” days, Jews and Christian are allowed to ascend the Mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which includes demands that they not pray or bring any “holy objects” to the site. Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without direct Waqf permission. Rules are enforced by Waqf agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any breaking of their guidelines.
“The situation is simply intolerable,” said Ha’ivri, who promised future protests. “This is a Jewish state. The Temple Mount is the most holy Jewish site. We’re not going away until Jews can once again pray there unrestricted.”