A crowd scheduled to ascend the Temple Mount but not allowed to enter held an impromptu reading of the Book of Eicha -- Lamentations -- sitting on the ground outside the entrance following an abrupt banning of all non-Muslim visitors to the site on Sunday morning.
The crowd had gathered to mark the postponed fast of Tisha B'Av -- the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av -- the date of the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem.
Police pushed the crowd to the side and put up portable metal barricades, but did not prevent the reading from taking place.
Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute was one of those who helped organize the annual visit. He told Arutz Sheva, "we had been told all week long that the Temple Mount would definitely be open to Jewish people on Tisha B'Av morning at 7:30 a.m. We had been told by the highest commanders. Then, over 20 minutes later, a policeman came out and said 'Sorry, we've decided that it's closed today,' with no explanation." Phone calls to police contacts confirmed the commander of the Jerusalem District Police had decided keep the site closed.
Christian visitors and tourists from foreign countries who had scheduled visits for the morning were also denied entry.
"It's a total disregard to the feelings of those who just want to be close to this holy place," the rabbi said. "This is the heart and soul of the Jewish people. We came because we believe that the process of mourning has to be replaced by a process of building, and going up to the Temple Mount in purity according to halacha (Jewish law) is the beginning of the process of rebuilding."
Rabbi Richman said that the Holy Temple is supposed to be a spiritual center for the entire world, "as Isaiah states, "'For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.'"
The Temple Institute and other groups that facilitate visits instruct all visitors to the Temple Mount to immerse in a mikvah (ritual pool of purifying waters) beforehand, and to wear only non-leather shoes. Visitors do not enter any building on the Temple Mount and mostly stay on the outer sidewalk area.
One older woman waiting to ascend to the Temple Mount identified herself as a Holocaust survivor. She vocally protested as police forces began to arrive to the site to cordon off the group. The woman told the officers that she was a survivor and that it was wrong to ban them from visiting the site. "This is the only country in the world where Jewish people are denied access to our holy places," the woman stated.
Another participant was Moshe Feiglin, head of the Mahigut Yehudit faction of the Likud party. Feiglin is a regular visitor to the site. He briefly addressed the crowd following the reading of Lamentations and decried what he called the lack of religious freedom.
The Temple Institute estimated that at least 200 people arrived for the scheduled annual visit.
Below: Photos from outside the Temple Mount entrance and at the Westen Wall plaza.