Arab fears of Jews taking over the Temple Mount convinced police to ban Jews from the site during Chanukah, which celebrates the Jews' return to the Holy Temple. A report in an Israeli newspaper, disseminated worldwide by United Press International (UPI) stated that Jews planned a “mass pilgrimage” numbering in the “hundreds” to the Temple Mount on Thursday.
The “mass” throng actually consisted of only 200 Jews, but the reports set off panic among Arabs and left Jews outside the site as police blocked their entrance, as has happened several times in the past after Arab clerics spread fears of a “Jewish takeover.”
A spokesman for the activists said, “The police provided no reason for their arbitrary decision. At one point police claimed that the Mount was closed due to the Moslem new year, which occurs on Friday and not on Thursday.
UPI reported that the planned “pilgrimage” would test the ”shaky calm” in Jerusalem and quoted a report that Jewish activists’ intentions to ascend the Temple Mount were interpreted by Arab clerics as “as a plan to invade the site or build a synagogue there.”
The news agency also recalled riots during the Sukkot holiday in October, when Arabs also spread rumors of a “Jewish takeover.”
Arab analyst and reporter Amjad Abu Arafeh was quoted by the Bethlehem-based Maan news agency as saying. “It seems this is now a usual event in Jerusalem, threatening the Al-Aqsa Mosque. These groups try to invade Al-Aqsa daily to make their prayers there. Only yesterday several settlers invaded the yards of Al-Aqsa mosque but the Waqf guards and the guards of the mosque were able to get them out.”
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Al-Husayni told the news agency that the “compound faces ongoing threats.” Maan described the Temple Mount as being “believed to be the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples” and that “a few extremist [Jewish] groups call for Israel to conquer the area and build a third temple."
Arab leaders and media have claimed for several years that Israel is plotting to undermine mosques and cause their collapse. Arab propaganada also has increasingly made the claim that the Holy Temples never existed and that Jews have no connection to the site.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel forbade Jews to ascend the Temple Mount because there are areas there where only Cohanim (members of the priestly tribe of Jews) may go according to Jewish Law and there is a debate about their location. Other rabbis permit Jews to ascend to certain parts of the site after preparations, including immersion in a ritual bath.