The Noble Sanctuary, including the iconic golden Dome of the Rock on the left, at top. The Wailing Wall, below right. (Photo credit: Christopher Hazou)
What is the Temple Mount movement?
- The Temple Mount movement (also known as the Temple Mount Faithful) is an extremist messianic Jewish movement whose objective is to build a Jewish temple inside the 1,300-year-old Noble Sanctuary mosque complex (known as the Temple Mount to Jews) in occupied East Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive holy sites in the world.
- Built-in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, the Noble Sanctuary ("Haram al-Sharif" in Arabic) contains the iconic Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, and is the third holiest site in Islam. Called the Temple Mount by Jews, it’s also the location where two ancient Jewish temples once stood, the second of which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE and is the holiest site in Judaism. The Noble Sanctuary abuts and overlooks a retaining wall of the second temple, known as the Wailing (or Western) Wall, where Jews have traditionally prayed instead of the Noble Sanctuary.
- The ultimate goal of the Temple Mount movement is to destroy or remove the venerated Muslim holy sites the Noble Sanctuary houses and replace them with a Jewish temple, although they often mask their intentions in terms of civil rights and religious freedom. As Moshe Feiglin, then-deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party explained in 2014: "I'm not asking for equality at the Temple Mount; there is no equality - it's ours and ours alone."
- On its website, the largest and most mainstream Temple Mount group, the Israeli government-funded Temple Institute, states it is “dedicated to all aspects of the Divine commandment for Israel to build a house for G-d's presence, the Holy Temple, on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. The range of the Institute's involvement with this concept includes education, research, activism, and actual preparation… We hope that by doing our part, we can participate in the process that will lead to the Holy Temple becoming a reality once more.” Another group, the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement, declares as its objective:
Liberating the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation… The Temple Mount can never be consecrated to the Name of G-d without removing these pagan shrines. It has been suggested that they be removed, transferred to, and rebuilt at Mecca.
- Frequent provocations by Temple Mount extremists, including members of Israel’s parliament and senior government officials, in and around the Noble Sanctuary incite tension in the region and fuel Palestinian fears that Israel will one day attempt to take over all or part of the Noble Sanctuary for exclusive Jewish use, as occurred with the historic Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in the occupied West Bank after the massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers by an Israeli-American settler in 1994. They also threaten to spark a major religious conflagration in the region and beyond.
- In addition to receiving funding from Israel’s government, Temple Mount extremists are financed by foreign-based registered charitable groups, including in the US, Canada, and the UK, making contributions to them tax deductible in those countries. Temple Mount extremists also receive significant support from right-wing evangelical Christians.
- Shortly after it began its military occupation of East Jerusalem in the June 1967 War, Israel destroyed an entire neighborhood next to the Noble Sanctuary, the Mughrabi (Moroccan) Quarter, consisting of 135 homes, to make space for the Western Wall plaza. Between 650 and 1,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and made refugees as a result.
- During the 1970s and 1980s, several plots by Jewish extremists to blow up the Noble Sanctuary were uncovered. In 1982, an Israeli soldier forced his way into the Noble Sanctuary and opened fire in the Dome of the Rock, killing two Palestinians and wounding at least 9 others. The killer was an American immigrant from Baltimore and follower of the notorious American-born extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane.
- In 1990, paramilitary Israeli police using live ammunition shot and killed 22 Palestinians and wounded 150 others during protests after Temple Mount extremists tried to lay a cornerstone for a temple in the Noble Sanctuary. The deadly violence used against Palestinian protesters was denounced by the UN Security Council in a resolution supported by the United States which, “condemns especially the acts of violence committed by the Israeli forces resulting in injuries and loss of human life." The Security Council also called for a fact-finding mission to investigate what happened, which Israel rejected and blocked.
- In September 2000, the notoriously brutal hardline ex-Israeli general and then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon made a provocative visit to the Noble Sanctuary to assert Jewish-Israeli sovereignty accompanied by hundreds of riot police. In ensuing protests Israeli police killed at least four Palestinians with live ammunition and wounded hundreds of others, sparking the Second Intifada (uprising) against Israel’s then more than three-decade-old military occupation. The visit came at a moment of high tension and frustration among Palestinians following seven years of failed negotiations that were supposed to end Israel’s repressive military rule and establish a Palestine state, which Israel systematically undermined by refusing to stop stealing Palestinian land that was supposed to comprise the state.
- Further provoking tension in the area, for decades extremist Israeli settlers, with the encouragement of the Israeli government and funded by US-registered charitable groups, have been forcing Palestinian families out of their homes in neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, which surround the Noble Sanctuary, part of an effort to “Judaize” them and cement Jewish-Israeli control.
- Violent attacks on Palestinian worshippers by Israeli police in the Noble Sanctuary and attempts by settlers to kick Palestinians out of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah sparked the surge in violence in May 2021 in which Israel killed nearly 250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 63 children.
The “status quo” agreement
- Following its military occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel prohibited Jews from praying in the Noble Sanctuary to avoid provoking religious discord with Muslims and because the vast majority of Jewish religious authorities at the time prohibited Jews from entering the Noble Sanctuary based on theological grounds.
- Under an agreement reached between Israel and neighboring Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem from 1948 when Israel was established on the destruction of Palestine until Israel occupied it in 1967, Jordan is supposed to be in charge of administering the Noble Sanctuary. According to the agreement, known as the “status quo,” only Muslims are allowed to pray inside the Noble Sanctuary. Jews and other non-Muslims are allowed to enter the Noble Sanctuary but are not allowed to pray. Below the Noble Sanctuary, only Jews are allowed to pray at the Wailing Wall.
- While Israeli officials frequently claim they have no intention of altering the status quo, since 2019 Israel has been quietly allowing Jews to pray in the Noble Sanctuary under police protection and in recent years Temple Mount extremists in senior positions in Israel’s government have made inflammatory statements calling for the imposition of Jewish-Israeli sovereignty in the Noble Sanctuary and the building of a temple in its grounds.
- Despite Jordan nominally having control over the Noble Sanctuary under the status quo, since Israel is the occupying power in East Jerusalem it does what it wants, frequently placing restrictions on Palestinian access to the Noble Sanctuary, invading it and assaulting worshippers, and other provocations and violations of Palestinians’ religious freedom. The Jordanian government often condemns these abuses and warns against further provocations but has little power to stop them.
- In addition to frequently denying Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem access to the Noble Sanctuary and Christian holy sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Israel also routinely denies millions of Muslim and Christian Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and in the diaspora, the right to visit occupied East Jerusalem and its holy sites.
Temple Mount extremism moving from the margins to the mainstream
- Once considered to be on the fringes of Israeli society, since the early 2000s the Temple Mount movement has grown rapidly and has become increasingly mainstream. Rabbis increasingly approve of, and even encourage Jews to visit the Noble Sanctuary and call for Jews to be allowed to pray there. By 2016, the Temple Mount movement had become so mainstream that Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau publicly declared he wanted to see a temple built in the Noble Sanctuary.
- The number of extremist Jews visiting the Noble Sanctuary has increased dramatically in recent years. In November 2021, one Temple Mount group said more than 10,000 Jews visited the Noble Sanctuary between September and November, an increase of 80% over previous years. A growing number of them openly pray in the Noble Sanctuary with the approval of Israeli police accompanying them, despite the fact it violates the status quo and provokes tension as well as Palestinian fears.
Temple Mount extremists & supporters in Israel’s government
- The current (April 2022) Israeli government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett includes a number of individuals in senior ministerial posts who have been pushing for the imposition of Jewish-Israeli sovereignty over the Noble Sanctuary, including Bennett himself.
- In July 2021, shortly after taking office, Bennett issued a statement declaring his support for Jewish prayer in the Noble Sanctuary, in violation of the status quo. In 2014, then-leader of the extreme right-wing Jewish Home party and Minister of Religious Services Bennett told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that Israel was attempting to exercise greater control over the Noble Sanctuary, stating that he had already taken measures that would "ultimately influence the eastern side of Jerusalem, and that will include the Temple Mount.” Acknowledging the potentially incendiary consequences of Israel’s encroachments in the Noble Sanctuary, he noted, “But we have to be very careful when dealing with the Temple Mount because of the huge sensitivity of the site.” During Bennett’s time as education minister under Netanyahu (2015-2019), his ministry included a number of Temple Mount groups on its list of recommended field trip sites.
- Other notable senior officials in Bennett’s government who support increased Jewish control and prayer in the Noble Sanctuary include:
Ayalet Shaked, Minister of the Interior. Shaked, who is a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, supports changing the status quo in the Noble Sanctuary. In 2014, then-Minister of Justice Shaked expressed her hope that "Prime Minister [Netanyahu] will come to his senses and approve the regulations on visiting times to the Temple Mount, so that the Jews can continue to visit and pray there.”
Zeev Elkin, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Minister of Housing & Construction. A settler and former member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Elkin has declared: “It is important to remove it [the Temple Mount] from the purview of the wild-eyed religious. We must explain to broad swaths of the people that without this place, our national liberty is incomplete.”
- Numerous Temple Mount extremists and sympathizers also held senior positions in the governments of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2009-2021), including Bennett and other members of his Jewish Home party. (See here for a more extensive list of Temple Mount extremists in Netanyahu’s government.)
- A 2018 investigation by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper revealed that a close Netanyahu confidant and key donor, American Kenneth Abramowitz, and Netanyahu’s Deputy Minister of Defense Eli Ben-Dahan (of Bennett’s Jewish Home party) had donated large sums to the Temple Institute, which is actively working towards building a temple in the Noble Sanctuary. In 2015, Ben-Dahan took part in a public event calling for full Israeli sovereignty to be imposed in the Noble Sanctuary and declared, “God-willing we will prepare the hearts [of the people] to return to the Temple Mount as well and to rebuild the Temple. We aren’t embarrassed to say it: We want to rebuild the Temple on the Temple Mount.”
- One of the most extreme Temple Mount movement supporters in Netanyahu’s government was Uri Ariel, a settler living illegally on occupied Palestinian land and a member of Bennett’s Jewish Home party. Ariel, who held ministerial positions in several Netanyahu governments, made frequent provocative visits to the Noble Sanctuary, including praying and tweeting about it, and openly called for a Jewish temple to be built on its grounds. In July 2013, then-Housing and Construction Minister Ariel told a group of West Bank settlers: “We’ve built many little, little temples… but we need to build a real Temple on the Temple Mount.”
- Members of Israel’s parliament, including from Bennett’s Jewish Home and Yamina parties and Netanyahu’s Likud party, have also held official debates, committee hearings, and introduced bills as part of an effort to force the Noble Sanctuary open to Jewish prayer.
Israeli government funding & promotion of extremist Temple Mount groups
- For decades, the Israeli government has directly funded extremist groups like the Temple Institute. According to a November 2015 report by Haaretz, over the previous five years the Temple Institute and an associated group received approximately $361,000 (USD) from the Education Ministry and about $210,000 (USD) from the Culture and Sports Ministry. According to a 2013 report by Israeli NGOs Ir Amim and Keshev:
The State of Israel directly funds various Temple movement activities. In the years 2008-2011, the Ministry of Culture, Science and Sports and the Ministry of Education supported the Temple Institute and the Midrasha at an average rate of NIS 412,000 [approximately $105,000 USD] per year. In 2012, the Midrasha, the educational arm of the Temple Institute, received NIS 189,000 [approximately $48,000 USD] from the Ministry of Education.
- According to a 2013 report by the Jerusalem Post, between 2003 and 2013 the Israeli government gave the Temple Institute between $92,000 and $215,000 (USD). The government also pays the Temple Institute to organize lectures and workshops for both religious and secular students. In 2014 alone, the government paid the Temple Institute more than $85,000 (USD) to do so.
- Government-funded youth groups like Bnei Akiva also indoctrinate young Israelis into the Temple Mount movement through workshops and other events. including working with Return to the Mount, one of the most extreme Temple Mount groups. Return to the Mount which is associated with the virulently racist and fascist Kahanist movement, seeks the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque in order to build a temple in its place and aggressively encourages Jews to pray and slaughter sacrificial animals in the Noble Sanctuary, including offering cash rewards.
- The Israeli government and city of Jerusalem also sponsor public events put on by the Temple Institute, which is promoted on the municipality of Jerusalem’s website and its official tourism site.
- In 2015, Jerusalem’s chief rabbi attended and gave his blessing to an event held by the Temple Institute where a lamb was ritually slaughtered in “rehearsal” for doing so in the Noble Sanctuary one day. The event poster stated that it was “supported by the Jerusalem municipality.” Then-Jerusalem city council member and current Deputy Mayor Arieh King, who heads one of the largest settler groups working to kick Palestinian families out of their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, also attended. A few months later, then-mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat spoke at an event organized by the Temple Institute aimed at kindergarten-aged children.
- According to the 2013 report by Ir Amim and Keshev:
On December 30, 2010 a highly attended conference took place at Binyanei Ha’uma (The Jerusalem Conference Center). The event, promoted as ‘Every Jew Has a Part in the Sacred’ (the logo on the invitation proclaimed ‘Something good is happening in Jerusalem!’), drew thousands of attendees… The program included a discussion of ritual sacrifice and an exhibit presenting a model of the Temple. It also showcased a virtual presentation illustrating the construction of the Third Temple on the ruins of the Dome of the Rock. The conference was held under the auspices of the Jerusalem Municipality’s Department of Religious Culture.
Incitement & indoctrination of children in Israeli public schools
- In addition to Israeli government funding for extremist Temple Mount groups and promotion of their events, public schools in Israel indoctrinate Jewish children into the Temple Mount movement and instill a desire to build a temple in the Noble Sanctuary.
- According to a 2015 Haaretz report, entitled “Religious Public Schools Teach Children to 'Long for the Third Temple,'” since 2008 Jewish religious schools in Israel have been using a curriculum stressing the importance of building a temple in the Noble Sanctuary to Judaism and the national goals of Israel. The article noted:
The section dealing with ‘Love of the Land and the Temple’ is part of the social studies curriculum in state religious schools. Development of the curriculum began about seven years ago, an Education Ministry source said, and since then has undergone a number of adjustments. This year, the curriculum – which is geared for grades 1 through 6 – is mandatory as part of the students’ study of faith. There is no direct reference in the set of lessons or elsewhere in the section on ‘Love of the Land and the Temple’ to Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The beginning of the ‘Love of the Land and the Temple’ curriculum states, ‘It is impossible to talk about the Land of Israel without speaking about the Temple. The Land of Israel and the Temple are attached to one another ... The Temple is at the pinnacle of the aspirations of the Jewish people and humanity as a whole.’
To convey a sense of the loss of the Temple, the workshop proposes that teachers explore the following: ‘A list of the most major threats, both spiritual and material, facing the Jewish people, and add all your personal difficulties and those of your students. And then think about how each item on the list would be different if we had the Temple right here, right now.’
- According to a 2013 report by the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli government allows women to do their mandatory national service working as tour guides and instructors for the Temple Institute instead of serving in the military, visiting schools and kindergartens around the country to indoctrinate children with extremist Temple Mount ideology.
Notable Temple Mount extremist groups
The Temple Institute
- The government-funded Temple Institute runs a “museum” and visitors center in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City near the Noble Sanctuary and is the most mainstream group in the Temple Mount movement. It is actively working towards building a temple in the Noble Sanctuary, including making plans with an architect, training priests and making vessels for ritual use in temple ceremonies, and indoctrinating Israeli schoolchildren with the belief that building a temple in the Noble Sanctuary is a religious and national imperative. According to its Statement of Principles:
The Temple Institute is dedicated to all aspects of the Divine commandment for Israel to build a house for G-d's presence, the Holy Temple, on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. The range of the Institute's involvement with this concept includes education, research, activism, and actual preparation. Our goal is firstly, to restore Temple consciousness and reactivate these "forgotten" commandments. We hope that by doing our part, we can participate in the process that will lead to the Holy Temple becoming a reality once more…
The reality of the Jewish experience means that the Temple will be rebuilt. Many people who visit the Temple Institute are incredulous and cannot help but exclaim: "Do you really think that you will live to see the Holy Temple rebuilt?" The answer to that question is of little importance… Whether this transpires in our generation or not, we can still choose to be active participants, and not simply spectators, in G-d's bold plan for the Redemption of Israel and all humanity.
The Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement
- Smaller than the Temple Institute and more open about their desire to remove Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque, the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement declares on its website: “The Temple Mount can never be consecrated to the Name of G-d without removing these pagan shrines. It has been suggested that they be removed, transferred to, and rebuilt at Mecca.”
Return to the Mount
- One of the most extreme and dangerous Temple Mount groups, Return to the Mount engages in provocations such as offering cash rewards to any Jew who sacrifices an animal in the Noble Sanctuary or gets arrested trying to do so. Members also disguise themselves as Muslims to enter the Noble Sanctuary and pray. Return to the Mount is closely associated with the extremist Kahanist movement, made up of followers of the notorious late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Jewish Defense League, Kach Party, and offshoots are labeled terrorist organizations by the US government because of violent attacks carried out by their members, and the fascist Lehava group, which works to prevent the mixing of Arabs and Jews in Palestine/Israel. (For more on the Kahanist movement, see here. For more on Lehava, see here.)
Notable provocations by Temple Mount extremists
Ir Amim and Keshev