Temple Mount: Jews Harassed, Ordered to 'Respect Ramadan'
As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, further restrictions have been imposed on Jews wishing to ascend the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site.
On Sunday morning, police announced that the Mount would only be open for a few hours in the morning for Jews and tourists to visit, with the rest of the day exclusively for Muslim worshippers.
"That would be a step up," said Temple Institute International Director Rabbi Chaim Richman dryly, noting that last year the Mount was closed completely to Jews during Ramadan for all but a few hours the entire month.
'Impossible to describe'
Despite being the holiest site in Judaism, Jews who wish to visit the Temple Mount even on regular days may only do so during certain hours, and the size of Jewish groups are restricted in number. Jews, along with other non-Muslims, are also forbidden to pray or carry our any forms of religious worship on the Temple Mount - despite numerous court orders ruling that they should be permitted to do so.
Groups of visibly-Jewish visitors are regularly subjected to harassment and even physical attacks by Muslim extremists, and Rabbi Richman described how even during the heavily-policed visits during Ramadan, the violence is continuing unabated.
The rabbi himself led a group of ten Jewish visitors to the site Monday morning, and described how a peaceful visit soon degenerated into "basically a lynch", after a group of Muslim women started to heckle the group. They were soon joined by others, and the crowd swelled to "hundreds".
"It's something which is impossible to describe," related Rabbi Richman. "You have these women dressed in black who come into your face and they hold up three fingers and gloat - like 'we have your children' - it's just the most unbelievable thing."
New rule: no drinking on Ramadan
Instead of breaking up the Islamist mob the police "just stood there and filmed the whole thing," he claimed. What's more, in the midst of the violence, they warned the Jewish visitors "to be sensitive" to Muslim worshippers and avoid drinking water, despite the sweltering heat, out of respect for Ramadan.
"I saw reports in the Arab press stating that the violence was because a Jew was drinking on the Temple Mount during Ramadan," said Rabbi Richman.
"I didn't see anyone drinking, but the police warned us and said 'please be sensitive because it's Ramadan, and don't drink.'
"These women are standing around us in their hundreds holding up these three fingers and they're laughing at us, and a policeman comes over to me and says 'please don't have a drink'," he continued. "It's ludicrous."
When the mob threatened to get out of hand, police ushered the Jews off the Temple Mount and closed it for the rest of the morning - despite other groups having waited for hours in the heat. They included 90-year-old Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a respected rabbinical scholar and son-in-law of the famed Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.
Rabbi Richman called on the government to "impose Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount and empower the police" to do their job. "They never apprehend any of the (Muslim) instigators, despite court rulings that Jews should be allowed to worship freely."
But he said in the absence of political will it was up to the Jewish people to push for change.
In the past few years the harassment and violence has got a lot worse; but that, he said, is a sign that things were already changing, and that the monopoly on the holy site held by the Islamic Waqf trust is in its "death throws".
"You didn't have this phenomenon years ago... the reason they're doing this is that they sense we are awakening and coming back and reconnecting to the Temple Mount, and that's what's driving them into a panic.
"You have a handful of Jews surrounded by hundreds of screaming, savage extremists. But the Jews are holding their heads high, the Jews are not afraid - only the police are in a panic."
He noted that despite the harassment not only has the numbers of Jewish pilgrims increased but also "the diversity"; religious-Zionist, hareidi and secular groups can now be seen regularly ascending the site "to reconnect with their heritage" together.
"It's so beautiful because that's (Jewish unity) the function of the Holy Temple," he said.
"The more Jews that come and see and feel this and bring other Jews and stand up - that's how we are changing facts on the ground."
Photos courtesy of the Temple Institute/Rabbi Chaim Richman.