Jews were free to ascend the Temple Mount on Sunday, in Jerusalem, after a month-long ban expired overnight as Eid al-Fitr parties across the Muslim world celebrated the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Mount’s Mugrabi Gate was opened between 7:30 AM and 11 AM, and about 500 foreign tourists and 60, or so, local Jews entered the complex, while the Muslim Waqf and Israeli security forces exercised unusual restraint policing visitors, witnesses said, but any outward sign of prayer was still forbidden.
“They actually gave us a little bit of space today,” said Rabbi Richman, director of the Temple Institute, who says he is routinely interrogated whenever he visits. “Sometimes, the intimidation is so aggressive, obtrusive, demeaning, sooverbearing, they are literally hanging onto us, looking at our lips, seeing if we’re praying.”
“Of course, we’re able to surreptitiously utter them without them noticing,” the rabbi admitted, “pretending to be on the telephone, or pointing my arms like I’m a tour guide, though I’m saying Tehilim [the Psalms of David] from memory – a Jew can get used to anything.”
Under normal circumstances, Rabbi Richman visits, or attempts to visit, the Temple Mount twice a week. Since 2006, it has officially been open to non-Muslims for four or five hours per day, though it is often closed, as it was for the entire month of Ramadan, with the exception of an hour or so, the day after Tisha B’Av, last month, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the destruction of the ancient Jewish temple. On Tisha B’Av, Jews, including Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, were turned away at the gate. While access has been granted in previous years, for the past two, Jews have been shut out for all of Ramadan.
“The place was covered with garbage today,” Rabbi Richman said. “You have to understand, Ramadan is like Woodstock for them; there’s bottles, plastic, garbage everywhere.”
The rabbi pointed out that while many Muslims may deny Jewish temples ever stood there, the stone column ruins of the actual temple lie in the gutter, collecting Ramadan trash as photographs from the visit showed. “Wood beams that archaeologists and scientists believe would be from the Temple, the original cedar from Lebanon, is also just lying out, covered in trash, like debris from a construction side,” Rabbi Richman said.
During the month-long festivities, one Muslim actually died while posing for a photograph; he fell 90 feet to his death while waving from atop of a Temple Mount wall. Hassan Suliman Abu Madam was among tens of thousands of worshipers who came last Sunday for the Muslim holiday of Laylat al-Qadr, which commemorates the night Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to Mohammed, celebrated annually during Ramadan.