October 16, 2018

Yehuda Glick shooting reignites holy war over Temple Mount

Snaking around the top right corner of the 2,000-year-old Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City is a rickety wooden structure called the Mughrabi Bridge — an awkward tube of scaffolding that leads to the most contested holy site in the world.

Today, that site — called the Temple Mount by Jews and Al-Aqsa by Muslims — is owned by Israel but regulated by a Jordanian trust. And its wooden entryway, erected in 2007 as a temporary path for non-Muslims to enter (but not pray at) the site, has become a permanent and symbolic eyesore at the epicenter of the fight over Jerusalem, a city considered by both Israelis and Palestinians to be their rightful capital.

Although Jews are not legally allowed to pray at the Temple Mount, an expanding core of Jewish activists now regularly ascend the Mughrabi Bridge and pray silently at the site as an act of protest.

“I go up to Temple Mount almost every single day, and I’ve been doing it for 25 years,” Yehuda Glick, 48, a figurehead for the crusade to restore Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount, said in a TV news debate last spring. “I don’t do that for any other reason than just going to the holiest place in the world where a Jew is obligated to go.

“We are talking about sharing, tolerance, respecting one another,” he said. “In what world could these things have anything to do with aggravating and igniting?”

But Glick did ignite Palestinian fury: He became a widely recognized face and a wanted man around the Old City for his activities at Temple Mount.

Around 10:15 p.m. on the night of Oct. 29, as the tall American-Israeli redhead emerged from a conference at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center titled “Israel Returns to the Temple Mount,” witnesses told the Israeli press that a man on a motorcycle with an Arabic accent asked Glick to identify himself before shooting him multiple times in the chest.

“Any one of [the bullets] could have killed him if they moved a half an inch either way,” Glick’s father, Shimon Glick, said in an interview days later outside the emergency room at Shaare Zedek Medical Center. His son was inside, hooked up to a respirator in a medically induced coma.

“Thank God,” he said. “It did damage him, but it didn’t cripple him. It didn’t kill him.”

Shimon Glick — a renowned physician who moved his family from New Jersey to Israel in 1974 to help found a medical school at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev — said that although his own politics fall farther left than his son’s, he knows Yehuda to be a nonviolent advocate of coexistence who envisions a Temple Mount where Muslims and Jews can pray side by side.

“The reason he was most successful is because even left-wing people can’t argue with that,” Shimon Glick said. “In many respects, he’s unified many different people who are involved in this thing, and he’s emerged as sort of a natural leader. He gets along with everybody.”

But the attempt on Glick’s life has also revived a movement larger than one man — a movement some say has the power to undo Jerusalem.

“We’re all sitting on a volcano, and that volcano is the Temple Mount,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and author of a book on the 1967 Israeli capture of the Temple Mount.

A highly publicized visit to the Temple Mount in 2000 by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon was widely blamed as the spark that ignited the Second Intifada. And still today, Halevi said, “The Temple Mount is ground zero” of the greater Israeli-Arab conflict.

In 1967, Halevi said, “At the height of our victory, we did not let the victory go to our heads. And to do so now risks destroying our ability to maintain control over Jerusalem.”

The attempt on Glick’s life on Oct. 29 prompted Israeli police to block off Al-Aqsa to all worshippers the next day, for the first time in years — setting off a fresh round of rioting in the West Bank and majority-Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Then, fanning the flames in an act of defiance against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to show “responsibility and restraint,” Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin — deputy speaker of the Knesset and a member of Netanyahu’s own party — tried to enter the Temple Mount on Oct. 30, the day it was closed.

“The assassin achieved his aim,” Feiglin told a swarm of reporters after he was blocked by guards. “There are no Jews on Temple Mount.”

As soon as the Temple Mount was reopened to the public on the morning of Nov. 2, Feiglin and a group of supporters climbed the wooden ramp into the compound.

“Zionism always knew that when our enemy is using violent acts or bullets to destroy us, to take us away from our land, Zionism always knew the right reaction is exactly the opposite,” Feiglin told the Journal in an interview. “If the assassin is trying to take us away from Temple Mount, this is the right reaction.”

Israel’s rabbinate has banned Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount because, by religious law, a Jew must be “ritually pure” to set foot on temple grounds — a contributing factor to the current “status quo” allowing only Muslim prayer.

Temple Mount activists, however, believe they have the right to choose their own spiritual path. “We’re talking about the right of Jews to go whenever they want, in a peaceful way, to the holiest site of the Jewish nation and pray — just as that right is given to the Arabs,” Feiglin said. “I feel more and more Jews understand what I’m talking about.”

During Temple Mount visiting hours on the afternoon of Nov. 3, two Jewish Israelis entered the spacious, park-like compound — a middle-aged woman from the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Michmash and a young man in a kippah. For the next hour, they were followed closely by three security guards as they circled the grounds.

Nizanit, 47, who did not wish to give her last name, said none of the guards stopped her when she began to pray aloud at the foot of the golden Dome of the Rock — and that one guard even said, “Amen.”

Nizanit told the Journal that her dream would be to see the site opened to all religions.

“Yehuda was very good at helping us feel holy,” she said of praying at the Temple Mount with shooting victim Glick. “He wasn’t against anyone — he didn’t hate anyone. He knew that we were all connected by God.”

However, Kifa Abu Maher, 30, a Palestinian shopkeeper in the Old City who watched Nizanit exit the Al-Aqsa compound, said it made him angry to see Jews praying in the only place left in the Old City exclusively for Muslims.

“Aqsa is a very holy place for us,” he said. “This is the place where Mohammed went to heaven. We feel like we’re with him when we’re there. … Jewish people can already pray at the Western Wall, but they want everything.”

Abu Maher pointed to a sign above his souvenir shop directing tourists to enter the Temple Mount through the Western Wall plaza. “So the only way to the mosque is through the Western Wall?” he asked. “What the f— is going on here?”

The Al-Aqsa mosque is generally understood to be the third holiest site in the world for Muslims — but for Palestinian Muslims, by all accounts, Al-Aqsa is tops.

“Al-Aqsa is not just stones,” said Nihad Siam, co-founder of a community center in Silwan, an East Jerusalem neighborhood that begins just a few hundred yards from Old City gates. “When I’m there, I feel like I’m flying. I imagine myself in the past. It’s something you feel in your bones.”

Siam said of the Temple Mount movement: “If I want to come to the Western Wall, they won’t let me pass. Why should I allow them to pray at my mosque?”

Another Silwan resident named Sami Kharani, a father of four, said he suspected that the dozens of Jewish settlers who’ve bought up homes in the neighborhood in recent weeks — including Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel — might be in on the plan to destroy nearby Al-Aqsa and take back Temple Mount.

“I know some very good Jewish people in West Jerusalem. I live with them, I work with them, and they’re not like the settlers,” he said, smoking a cigarette in front of his home as he kept an eye on a house across the street where a Jewish couple had just moved in. “They come to make problems with the Arabs.”

Tension between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in Silwan and the neighboring Abu Tor area reached its peak on Oct. 30 — the same day Al-Aqsa was closed — after Glick’s alleged shooter, 32-year-old Mutaz Hijazi, was gunned down on his Abu Tor rooftop by Israeli police. For hours, clouds of tear gas billowed up from the steep hillside and the sound of rubber bullets echoed through greater Jerusalem.

Israeli police claim Hijazi opened fire at officers first; friends and family who witnessed the shootout deny the suspect had a gun. Either way, posters of Hijazi’s face — along with that of Silwan resident Abdel Rahman al-Shaludi, shot to death a week earlier after he plowed his car into the Jerusalem light rail, killing two — are now plastered on homes and businesses throughout the area.

The owner of a produce shop in nearby Ras al-Amud who was afraid to give his name said he was fined 500 shekels by Israeli authorities for hanging one such “martyr” poster in his window.

“Things have gotten a lot worse after Hijazi,” the shop owner said of the recent police crackdown in the area. “As we say, the situation is on the stove. If they continue to forbid prayers at Aqsa, we will have another intifada in Jerusalem.”