Minister's Temple Mt. visit irks Arabs
The Jerusalem Post (Link) - Abe Selig & Elie Leshem (June 23, 2009)
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu) made a rare appearance on the Temple Mount on Tuesday, drawing condemnations from Arab MKs and the Wakf Islamic trust, who labeled the tour a "provocation."
While the Public Security Ministry reported that the visit ended without incident, Wakf director Azzam el-Ahmed told the Palestinian Ma'an news agency it had not been coordinated in advance and was "a provocative entry to the holy site, which may complicate the sensitive situation [there]."
United Arab List-Ta'al MKs Ahmed Tibi and Taleb a-Sanaa also condemned the visit, with Sanaa calling it "a dangerous, pathetic provocation."
"Aharonovitch is unwelcome at the Aksa Mosque, and his purpose was to incense the Muslims and to try to show them who's in charge," he continued.
Sanaa said the tour had only been intended to "inflame the area" and warned that the minister would "suffer the consequences of the visit."
The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which is tied to Sanaa's United Arab List, refused further comment.
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), however, responded to the condemnations angrily, saying, "The hooligan behavior of the Wakf members and Knesset member Sanaa, and the incitement against the public security minister, threaten the rule of law in Israel. Those who try to keep the minister away from the Temple Mount plan to keep Israel away from it."
Aharonovitch's media adviser, Tal Harel, described the visit as routine, saying it lasted about two hours, during which the minister was briefed by officials charged with the compound's security.
Aharonovitch was accompanied by Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen and Jerusalem police chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco.
Harel also rejected allegations that the tour was intended to create a provocation, saying it had not only been coordinated in advance with the Wakf, but that representatives of the Islamic supervisors of the site actually escorted Aharonovitch and his entourage.
"There will always be such comments," Harel told The Jerusalem Post, adding that the tour was "completely professional," with "no special reason for the timing; nothing unusual."
The real incitement was by those who criticized the visit, he said. "Those who wish to create provocations will create them, irrespective of the trip to the Temple Mount."
Nonetheless, the mount has long been a flashpoint.
In 1990, rumors that Jews planned to start rebuilding the Temple sparked Muslim riots that resulted in casualties. In 1996, Israel opened an archeological tunnel just outside the compound, which led to violent demonstrations. And in September 2000, a visit to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon triggered more violent demonstrations that led to what later became known as the al-Aksa or second intifada.
Aharonovitch was also embroiled in controversy last week, after he told an undercover police officer disguised as a drug addict that he resembled an Araboush - an extremely derogatory Hebrew term for Arabs.
Referring to that incident, Sanaa said he hoped that Aharonovitch "hadn't again repeated the unfortunate word Araboushim during his visit."