“I rejoiced when they said unto me: ‘Let us go unto the house of the LORD.’” (Psalm 122:1)
A new bill has been submitted to the Israeli Knesset demanding that Jews be given the freedom to pray on the Temple Mount, effectively changing the current status quo.
If passed, the bill, proposed by MK Bezalal Smotrich (Jewish Home), would hold that Israel’s guarantee of freedom of religion must include access and ability to worship at every holy site in the country. The law would apply not just to Jews but to people of all religions, and would, of course, include the most highly contested holy site in the country – the Temple Mount.
As the law stands today, the right to freedom of religion in Israel is hampered by a “lacuna”, a situation in which a specific law or provision is lacking, which “does not protect, specifically, freedom of worship and freedom of access.”
The bill proposes to add a clause to the existing law “protecting the holy places, [allowing] freedom of worship for all religions with free and fixed access, so that this fundamental right will be defined by law and will result in freedom of worship anywhere and to anyone.”
An explanatory note accompanying the bill stated that “freedom of worship and freedom of access of all religions to the holy places is a basic right in a democracy” and pointed out that there have been multiple cases brought before the Supreme Court in which the right to freedom of worship has been upheld.
Five other members of Knesset have signed the bill: MK Shuli Muallem-Refaeli (Jewish Home), MK Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home), MK Mickey Zohar (Likud), MK Avraham Nasoga (Likud), and MK Oren Hazan (Likud).
If passed, the bill would dramatically change the status quo, which has been a sore source of conflict in the region for the past several months. The current status quo holds that only Muslims are permitted to pray on the Mount, and any Jew, Christian or other non-Muslim who attempts to do so is removed, sometimes forcefully, from the site by Israeli Police.
In recent months, the Arab population, perhaps responding to an increase in Temple Mount advocacy by several groups which lobby for freedom of worship on the Mount, as well as the growing number of Jewish visitors ascending to the site, has become suspicious that Israel is seeking to change the status quo.
The current spate of terror and violence has been attributed by Arab leadership to frustration and fears over non-Muslim access to the Temple Mount, which is the most holy site in Judaism and the third-most holy site in Islam.
Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has used the Temple Mount to incite violence, announcing that he will not permit the “filthy feet” of Jews onto the Mount, which is currently controlled by a Jordanian Islamic Waqf.
Well-known Temple Mount advocate Rabbi Yehudah Glick, the founder and chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, has been among the most vocal supporters of freedom of religion on the Temple Mount.
Glick, a member of the Likud party, now stands to become a member of Knesset himself. As of last week, when interior minister Silvan Shalom resigned from Knesset, Glick, who has been on the Likud roster for the past several elections, is next in line. If one more Likud member resigns, Glick will join the Israeli governing body, where he would likely double his efforts towards achieving freedom of worship and access on the Temple Mount.