In a gross act of provocation, Itamar Ben-Gvir, an extremist Israeli Cabinet minister, visited a highly sensitive holy site in Jerusalem this Sunday, at a moment when tensions with the Palestinians are escalating alarmingly.
The National Security Minister’s visit, his second since being inaugurated into Israel’s most ultra-right government in history, was met with strong denunciations from both the Palestinian territories and neighbouring Jordan.
Ben-Gvir, oblivious to the gravity of the situation and the potential for more serious repercussions, proclaimed during his early morning visit to the site, with the revered golden Dome of the Rock in the background, “I am happy to come up to the Temple Mount, the most important place for the Israeli people.” He unashamedly hailed the presence of police at the site as evidence of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, as reported by video footage released by his office.
Ben-Gvir’s inflammatory visit came just days after Jerusalem Day, an occasion celebrated by Israelis to commemorate Israel’s capturing of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Mideast war. A parade of flag-waving nationalists marched through the main Palestinian street in Jerusalem’s Old City, some shamelessly voicing racist anti-Arab chants. Among the hundreds of Jews who visited the sensitive hilltop shrine was a minor minister from Ben-Gvir’s party, although Ben-Gvir himself was notably absent.
Since Israel’s takeover in 1967, Jews have been permitted to visit the Temple Mount which contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque but not pray there “legally”, a fact the ultra-nationalist Ben-Gvir and a rising tide of activists seek to change, risking further unrest and conflict.
Ben-Gvir’s action, regardless of his official capacity, can only be seen as a reckless instigation that could potentially inflame the already volatile situation in the region. Such acts should be universally condemned and those in power must show greater responsibility and respect for the sanctity of religious sites and the sentiments of all communities involved.