Ben-Gvir says Jews can pray at Al-Aqsa, in challenge to Jerusalem status quo

Ben-Gvir says Jews can pray at Al-Aqsa, in challenge to Jerusalem status quo
The extremist Israeli security minister said on Wednesday that Jews were permitted to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, prompting a rebuke from Netanyahu
4 min read
06 June, 2024
Far-right Israeli minister Ben-Gvir encouraged Israeli settlers to perform prayers at the Islamic holy site [Getty]

Israel's far-right security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has stormed the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, saying that that Jews can pray anywhere in Jerusalem, especially at the holy site.

He made the comments on Radio Galei Israel during the annual "Flag Day" march, where hundreds of Israeli settlers and extremists march through Palestinian areas of occupied east Jerusalem in a show of force.

This year, they stormed the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque and performed provocative religious rituals while touring the site.

"I am also happy that Jews went up to the Temple Mount and prayed there today…it is very important. My policy is very clear on this matter, Jews can be anywhere in Jerusalem, pray anywhere" Ben-Gvir said.

His comments immediately drew a denial from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The status quo on the Temple Mount has not changed and will not change,” said a statement from the prime minister’s office, referring to a longstanding ban on Jewish worship at the al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Israelis use the term "Temple Mount" to refer to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third most holy site in the Islamic faith. Some Israeli extremists wish to demolish the mosque and rebuild a Jewish temple thought to have existed there in ancient times.

Decades-long conventions and international agreements, including the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty, allow Muslims to pray at the site with little restrictions while banning prayers and rituals by non-Muslims, who can only enter as visitors.

However, over the years, Israeli far-right ministers, politicians, rabbis and extremist settlers have violated this by frequently storming the site and taking part in provocative rituals there.

On Wednesday, dozens of Jewish extremists marked 'Flag Day' by chanting anti-Palestinian slogans while marching through Palestinian areas of Jerusalem in the vicinity of the holy site, while waving Israeli flags and singing nationalist songs.

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Palestinian journalists attacked

During the march, many Israeli settlers violently attacked Palestinians and journalists covering the event in the Old City.

Settlers confronted Palestinian shop owners, forcing many of them to leave to avoid being attacked.

Prominent Palestinian photojournalist Saif al-Qawismi was heavily beaten by a mob of hundreds of Israeli settlers before he was detained by Israeli forces.

In a photograph that has been widely circulated online, he could be seen crouching in a corner while dozens of settlers surround and beat him.

Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson, an Israeli, was among those attacked. He was knocked to the ground and kicked until police officers intervened.

Local Palestinian videographers were attacked for filming the march, including Ghassan Eid, who was wounded for taking photos.

Israeli police reported on Wednesday that five people were arrested for attacking journalists, while over 3,000 Israeli security officers were deployed in East Jerusalem, with military checkpoints being set up to let the march to take place.

Ben-Gvir to promote driver involved in traffic offense

Meanwhile, Ben-Gvir has been embroiled in further controversy after he announced on Thursday that he is reportedly working to promote his driver, who injured five people in a traffic offence.

The Israeli news site Times of Israel (TOI) said the driver had his license revoked for 60 days after allegedly causing an accident by entering an intersection on a red light, after leaving an area Ben-Gvir had gone to visit.

The minister and his driver were in an official government vehicle in the city of Ramleh in April.

Officials and police believe there is enough charged to press charges against him for traffic offences, particularly as video footage appears to show the driver running a red light.

According to TOI, Ben-Gvir has a long history of traffic offences, including running red lights, speeding, and using his phone while driving. He has been repeatedly criticised for filming himself in vehicles while not wearing a seatbelt.