JERUSALEM (Jan. 21)
Tension between Jews and Arabs stemming from recent confrontations on the Temple Mount continued to escalate this week over the issue of Jewish prayer at the site of two of the holiest shrines of the Islamic faith.
The matter was discussed before the Knesset’s Interior Committee yesterday where there seemed to be some uncertainty as to what the law permits. Arabs were further angered yesterday when Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu proposed that a synagogue be erected on the Temple Mount. The Mufti, Sheikh Sa’ad A-Din Al-Alami, chief of the Moslem Council, responded in effect that it would be over his dead body.
Meanwhile, a delegation of six Israeli Arab mayors visited the Mufti on the Temple Mount today to express solidarity with the Moslem religious authorities’ refusal to allow Jews to worship there. It was the first visit to the site by Israeli Arabs in any official capacity. Mayor Tarek Abdul Hai of Tira stated that Jewish demands to worship on the Temple Mount were motivated by political not religious reasons.
Sheikh Al-Alami, who is the top Moslem religious functionary in Israel, declared, “Just as I will not pray in your synagogues, I don’t want Jews to come and pray here.”
ACTIONS PRECIPITATING LATEST STRIFE
The latest religious strife was precipitated when several members of the Interior Committee, headed by its chairman, Dov Shilansky (Likud-Herut), visited the Temple Mount two weeks ago to investigate allegations of illegal construction there. They were confronted by angry crowds and had to be extricated by the police.
The committee members repeated their visit a week later and while it passed without incident, Arab youths stoned police just outside the Temple Mount area and 17 were arrested. On both visits, the Knesseters were accompanied by ultra-nationalist Jewish activists who are not members of the Interior Committee.
Their presence, and the fact that on the first visit the news media was invited with cameras, constituted what the Moslem authorities contended was deliberate provocation. Police have maintained tight surveillance over the area since then. Last Sunday they prevented several Jews from entering the western gate of the Temple Mount when it appeared they intended to stage a demonstration. Two members of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s extremist Kach Party were detained.
The Temple Mount is open to all visitors and is, in fact, a tourist attraction. But Israeli law forbids Jewish prayers at the site of the Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar) which, after Mecca and Medina (in Saudi Arabia), are the holiest Moslem shrines. Deputy Attorney General Yoram Bar-Sella told the Interior Committee yesterday, however, that Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount was not a criminal offense.
NO ILLEGAL CONSTRUCTION WORK TAKING PLACE
David Kraus, Inspector General of Police, explained to the committee that organized Jewish prayer was banned by a ruling of the Supreme Court but an individual was entitled to pray there as long as he did not do so demonstratively.
Aharon Sarig, Director General of the Jerusalem Municipality, informed the committee that contrary to allegations, no illegal construction was taking place on the Temple Mount. He said there was some reconstruction work which did not require licenses but he knew of no prayer platforms being erected.
In other developments, there was religious strife in Hebron last Friday, where Jews and Arabs scuffled at the Patriarchs’ Tomb. An elderly Arab reportedly attempted to stab a Jewish worshipper.
Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem who has long taken pride in his ability to maintain peace between Jews and Arabs in the city, reacted angrily over the weekend to a demand by one of his deputy mayors, Rabbi Nissim Zeev, that Israeli Arabs be banned from living in the Neve Yaacov neighborhood. He said unless Zeev retracted his statements he would be dismissed from office.
An Arab family of 12 children barely escaped injury when their flat in Neve Yaacov was set on fire last week. Other Arab residents have complained of threats and harassment by Kach Party activists.