Hard-Line Israeli Minister Visits Volatile Jerusalem Holy Site
In one of his first acts as Israel’s minister of national security, the ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir visited a Jerusalem holy site that is sacred to Jews and Muslims early Tuesday under heavy guard, defying threats of violent repercussions and eliciting a furious reaction from the Palestinian leadership.
The visit to the site, a frequent flash point in the Old City of Jerusalem where past Israeli actions have set off broader conflagrations, initially passed without incident. But coming two days after Mr. Ben-Gvir took office, it served as an early indicator of the challenges posed by Israel’s new government, its most right-wing and religiously conservative yet, in the domestic and international arenas.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned the tour as “an unprecedented provocation” and said that it held Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel responsible for what it called a “flagrant attack” on the holy site.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, the coastal Palestinian enclave where Israel has fought several wars in recent years, had warned through the news media that any visit to the site by Mr. Ben-Gvir would be “a detonator” that would trigger an explosion.
Mr. Ben-Gvir is the most high-profile official in years to visit the site, revered by Jews as Temple Mount, the location of their two ancient temples, and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the compound containing the Aqsa Mosque and other important Islamic shrines.
The holiest site for Jews, and the third holiest for Muslims, the compound was conquered by Israel during the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Under an uneasy status quo that has prevailed for decades, Jews are permitted to visit, as are non-Muslim tourists, but they are not supposed to pray there. That norm, long enforced by the Israeli police in the interest of preserving public order, has been fraying in recent years.
The visit took place at about 7 a.m. and lasted for under 15 minutes. While on the site, according to the Israeli news media, Mr. Ben-Gvir said, “Our government will not be deterred by Hamas’s threats. The Temple Mount is the most important site in the world to the Jewish people, and we will protect the freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but also for Jews who wish to visit the mount. We will deal with anyone who makes threats with an iron fist.”
After the visit Mr. Ben-Gvir posted a photograph of himself on the mount on Twitter, with one of the Islamic shrines in the background. “The Israeli government of which I am a member will not surrender to a vile organization of murderers,” he wrote. “Temple Mount is open to all and if Hamas thinks that if it threatens me, that will deter me, they had better understand that times have changed.”
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.