Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, spoke to journalists on Sunday in a briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As expected, he wanted to set the record straight about the facts regarding the Temple Mount clashes in Jerusalem. Due to what he called “fake news,” Lapid emphasized the inaccuracy in reporting, by showing video clips of the confrontations on the Mount between Israeli police and violent Palestinian extremists.
The Foreign Ministry thinks certain foreign media outlets are fueling the flames of this conflict.
Lapid is concerned that the current powder keg on the Temple Mount could still escalate into a conflagration across the country. “In the past three weeks, there has been a dangerous effort underway in Jerusalem. During Ramadan, terrorist organizations have been trying to hijack the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to create an outbreak of violence in Jerusalem, and from there, a violent conflict across the country.”
According to Lapid, the instigators of the violent riots on the Temple Mount have been Hamas and Islamic Jihad extremists, who have violated Muslim sanctity in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Not taking their shoes off, which desecrates the holy place, these extremists have been bringing weapons into the Mosque, and throwing rocks and explosives from within it. On one of the videos, Lapid showed how a fire at the Mosque was started by the Palestinians.
Citing Israel’s intentions over the past weeks to control terrorist actions and keep the peace for thousands of Muslims praying on the Mount, Lapid said, “It is not Israel that endangered worshippers — it is the terrorist organizations who endangered them.”
Lapid clarified, several times, that Israel is committed to the Status Quo on the Temple Mount, which means that Muslims can pray on the Mount, but Jews and Christians can only visit the area. Some journalists expressed frustration that Jews were also praying on the Mount. But Lapid was insistent that this was not Israel’s intent, although he, himself, saw no problem with Jews praying on the Mount.
“Muslims pray on the Temple Mount, non-Muslims visit. There is no change. There will be no change. We have no plans to divide the Temple Mount between religions. We call on Muslim moderates; on Muslim states; to act against this “fake news,” and to work together with us to ensure our common interest: preservation of the Status Quo and calming the situation.”
Despite Israel’s attempt to ensure that hundreds of thousands of Muslims should be able to go up to the Mount and pray, peacefully, at the Mosque, this act of kindness and fairness has not impressed other nations.
There has been high-level coordination with the United States and Israel’s regional partners. However, confusion by Palestinian instigators disrupting the peace on the Mount, has caused Israel to lose diplomatic gains, at times, especially with countries like Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco. While Foreign Ministry officials have been speaking to their counterparts in these nations, there have still been troubles for Israel.
“I will not deny that we were, in the first couple of weeks, very disappointed with the kind of vocabulary that was used by the Jordanians, especially the speech the Jordanian Prime Minister gave in Parliament. This is unacceptable from a friendly country; a country we have a peace agreement with; and a country that knows well the kind of effort we took in order to ensure prayers. The last two or three days, we are noticing an improvement, especially with the kind of cooperation we have with the WAQF, and on the Mount, itself. So, the hotline is working again.”
Media commentators have blamed Israel, not the Palestinians for the riots and the violence, citing provocations by Israeli right-wing extremists. However, Lapid was emphatic that the cause of the attacks has not been Israel’s fault.
“We have done and continue to do everything to enable peaceful prayer. In fact, the only disruption to prayers yesterday, was a Hamas rally which took place on the Temple Mount. Hamas terrorists stood there and openly called for the murder of Jews. That is Hamas’s prayer – an antisemitic call for the slaughter of innocents.”
In a statement aimed at Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Lapid added a veiled threat against the two terrorist groups to not try and expand the war. “Israel will not accept rocket fire from Gaza. Period. We have a zero-tolerance policy for attacks on our territory.”
Up until now, 800,000 Muslims have participated in daily prayers during Ramadan. This is Israel’s way of proving that there is freedom of worship for Muslims on the Temple Mount, despite having to remove violent rioters from the area. Lapid believes that a lot of the tensions will be lifted when Ramadan is over next week.
This writer asked Lapid whether Israel should have developed a more assertive approach in bringing in the media for meetings earlier, considering that, over the years, these acts of violence have, consistently, taken place during Israel’s most important religious and secular holidays.
Lapid explained this is why he is speaking to the media now. “This government was just formed 10 months ago… Hopefully, we are going to do better next year. It’s a process. I agree that we can’t just sit on our hands and say, O.K., this is the way it is going to be on the Temple Mount during the holidays.”
In March 2022, Israel experienced terror attacks throughout the country, in Jerusalem, Beersheva, Hadera, Bnei Brak, and Tel Aviv, killing a total of 14 Israelis.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Security Agency, together with Israel’s Defense Forces, and the Israeli Police have thwarted 126 significant terror attacks since the beginning of this year. These include: 95 shootings; 12 attacks with explosives; 15 stabbings; 2 suicide belt attacks; and 2 ramming attacks.
The Foreign Ministry hopes that the current Temple Mount violence will not escalate throughout the country as it did in May 2021. This is when Hamas went to war with Israel for 11 days, launching thousands of rockets into Israeli towns and cities, inciting Islamic terror attacks in Jerusalem, as well as in Israel’s mixed cities of Israeli Arabs and Jews. Foreign Ministry officials are optimistic that this May will be calmer.
Lapid spoke frankly what this time period should look like among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, especially around Jerusalem’s holy sites.
“You know, when festivals of the three religions coincide, it should be a cause for joy. We should be able to celebrate together. Respect one another. Enjoy one another’s traditions and cultures. That is the true spirit of Jerusalem. I believe that is what the majority want, and that is what the silent majority does.”