JERUSALEM, Israel – Two members of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) visited the Temple Mount Sunday after the government lifted a three-year ban prohibiting lawmakers from ascending to one of Judaism's holiest sites.
The ban, put in place in November 2015, was the government's attempt to avoid provocation with the Wakf, the Muslim trust that administers the day-to-day activities on the Temple Mount.
Israel is responsible for security at the contested site, which Muslims refer to as Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary. They believe the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven from there.
Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) arrived bright and early Sunday morning, according to Israeli media reports, bringing a small group of Jewish visitors with him. Likud MK Sharren Haskel followed a few hours later with another small group.
Their visits come two weeks before Tisha b'Av, a solemn fast day when Jews mourn the loss of the first and second Jewish Temples. According to tradition, both were destroyed on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, the first by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the second by the Romans in 70 AD. The Temple Institute is preparing for the day when the Third Temple will be built.
Model of the Third Temple
The Palestinian Authority also rejects Jewish visitors to the site, which Muslims claim as holy to Islam.
Mahmoud Ismail of the Palestinian National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, said Jews have no right there.
"The al-Aksa Mosque is a site belonging only to the Palestinians and no one else has any right to it since it is an Islamic cultural heritage only," Arutz Sheva quoted Ismail as saying.
In November 2015, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the PA would not allow Israeli Jews' "filthy feet" to desecrate the site.
"We won't allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem," Abbas said. "Each drop of blood that was spilled in Jerusalem is pure blood as long as it's for the sake of Allah," he said. "Every shahid [Muslim martyr] will be in heaven and every wounded person will be rewarded, by the will of Allah."
Meanwhile on Sunday, Abbas said the PA will not stop payment to martyrs and their families despite Israel's recent decision to withhold tax transfers until the Palestinian Authority stops its "pay to slay" policy.
"We will not allow anyone to interfere with the money that Israel is against us paying to the families of martyrs and prisoners," Abbas told participants of a Fatah Central Committee Meeting in Ramallah on Sunday. "These are our martyrs, our wounded and our prisoners and we will continue to pay them," the PA's official Wafa state news agency reported.
The Palestinian Authority government doles out an estimated $330 million annually to prisoners, most serving time for terror-related crime, and their families. Many believe the practice spurs on Arab youth to risk their lives to attack Jews. Should they be killed, they'll be called martyrs and their families will be financially set for life.
Last week, Australia followed the US lead to withhold financial aid to the PA until it stops supporting terrorists and their families.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her country would no longer risk the possibility of funding activities her country "would never support."
In December 2017, Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, which also withholds financial aid to the PA until it ends terror payments. The legislation is named after US Army veteran Taylor Force, stabbed to death during a visit to Israel in March 2016. The 29-year-old Vanderbilt University graduate, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was in Israel as part of an academic program.