The long and winding road to the Temole Mount
The long and winding road to the Temole Mount Arnon Segal

Jews and tourists who attempted to ascend the Temple Mount this week were subjected to long lines and waits of hours to enter the Temple compound, while Muslims were able to enter the area unhindered.

That, said Yehuda Glick of the Liba Project for Jewish Freedom at the Temple Mount, is a clear case of racism and discrimination.

“It is hard to believe that the state does not already recognize the Temple Mount as a Muslim site, with anyone who is a non-Muslim an unwelcome annoyance,” Glick said.

The lines emerged on Wednesday and Thursday, as hundreds of Jews sought to visit the Temple Mount that for Rosh Hodesh (the celebration of the new month) of the Hebrew month of Iyar. Jews and tourists are allowed to access the Mount only via the Mughrabi Gate adjacent to the Kotel, and already in the early hours of Wednesday people gathered to enter.

The Muslim gatekeepers worked at their usual slow pace, and very quickly a long line developed – stretching at times for dozens of meters, outside the Dung Gate of the Old City. The wait for some was hours.

“Police say that a half million tourists, meaning non-Muslims, visit the Mount annually, but it's clear that there are a million more who would like to visit but don't because of these long lines,” said Glick. “It's time that the government takes responsibility for visit procedures on the Mount.”

In recent weeks, Jews have become much more outspoken over the discrimination they face in visiting the Mount. On Tuesday, the Liba Project held a conference for Jewish Temple Mount prayer rights. Addressing the conference, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said that Israel needs to set regulations to arrange prayers on the Mount. I expect and trust that the prime minister and the Israeli government will adopt these regulations, give them legal standing, and allow any Jew who wants to ascend to the Temple Mount and pray there, to pray there."

The emergency conference, entitled "Returning the Temple Mount," was organized by Glick, following the repeated riots by Muslim visitors preventing Jews from accessing the site. "We came to say in a clear voice - enough is enough," declared Glick. "The situation of daily harassment of Jews on the Temple Mount cannot continue, not even for another moment." Glick called on the state to defend the rights of Jews to pray at the holy site, as a "sovereign and democratic nation."

Despite being the holiest site in Judaism, Jewish access to the Temple Mount is very limited - including a blanket ban on Jewish worship there - in what activists have condemned as a capitulation to Muslim extremism. Israeli police, in an attempt to appease the Muslim Waqf trust which was left in charge of the compound after the 1967 Six Day War, ban Jews from praying or performing any other form of worship.

On a visit to Israel last month, US Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH) expressed his "shock" after witnessing anti-Jewish discrimination on the Temple Mount. Johnson, along with Congressman David McKinley (R-WV), were part of a small group of six people, led by Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute, among hundreds of people queuing to visit the Mount, which is also the site of the Al Aqsa Islamic complex.

Rabbi Richman urged the legislators to pay attention to the difference between how their group - which included religious Jews - would be treated in comparison to other visitors to the Mount.

"No one knew who we were... that we were members of the U.S. Congress or anything like that," Johnson said. And it was that anonymity which enabled them to experience a ritual that is all too familiar to the countless Jews who have visited the Temple Mount.

"We were first in line," he recalls, but after handing their IDs to police as requested they were forced to wait until everyone else behind them ("and it was a long line!") filed through, before they were finally allowed to ascend.

"When we were finally allowed to go through we were followed very closely by a member of the Waqf," he recounted.

"It struck me how intimidating this gentleman was trying to be. He looked like someone out of a Hollywood movie - with his hair slicked back and his shades hiding his eyes so you couldn't see what he was looking at... he stayed pretty close to us, and followed us around wherever we went.

"The rabbi pointed out that if he were to take out his Torah or give any indication that he was exercising his freedom of worship on the Temple Mount by praying - or if any of us were to take out our Bibles and try to pray or express our religion on the Temple Mount... we could have been arrested and removed and incarcerated.

"This thug followed us everywhere we went and if we stopped and took too long in one place he would look at the Israeli police, who would say 'you need to keep your group moving.'"

Despite a police escort, the group was subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse by a group of female Muslim worshipers who, he noted with some irony, were engaged in "their own prayer services, their rituals" on the Mount, "something Jews are not allowed to do."