“Return to the Mount” is a group of radical, right-wing Jewish activists, whose members, according to Haaretz, “are identified with the far-right Kach movement founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.” They are part of a growing tide of “Temple Mount” activism, which ultimately aims to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and replace it with a Jewish temple. The following text is an abridged version of an article published by Israeli news site Walla! on 23 October, translated for MEMO.
The Hozrim Lahar (Return to the [Temple] Mount) movement, which strives to promote the renewed construction of the [Jewish] temple and the destruction of the mosques on Temple Mount, subscribes to an extreme ideology and its activists may “bring about the conflagration of an extensive blaze on nationalistic grounds to the extent of bodily harm” – This was stated this week for the first time by the Israeli Supreme Court. This strict definition originates in a ruling which rejected a petition by two key activists in the movement, chairperson Raphael Moris and coordinator Yair Kehati.
In the beginning of October, restraining orders were issued against the two, banning their entry to Jerusalem during the holiday period. The orders were issued by the Shabak, based on the [British Mandatory] Emergency Regulations (1945) for the purpose of “ensuring state security, the safety of the public and the maintenance of public order.” In the petition, filed via Attorney Yitzhak Bam, the two asked not only for the annulment of the orders, but also for a court statement so as to past cases in which such orders have been used.
Hozrim Lahar is a fairly new movement which focuses on the Temple Mount and raising awareness of the need and the demand for the construction of the Third Temple. The organisation was established around four years ago as the initiative of several Hilltop Youths who were active in the advancement of settlements in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and decided to channel their energy to the Temple issue.
“It actually came from my wife, and I too joined in,” said Moris, aged 21. “We began to feel out the [situation on the] ground and we noticed that many people are talking about the Temple and Temple Mount but there was nothing beyond that. There were no actions and no appeals to youth which is our main focus for practical action – demos, protest and raising awareness of the issue – and we took it upon ourselves.”
“Unlike most Temple Mount movements which deal with the place of worship and the right of prayer for Jews on Temple Mount alongside the Mosque – that is not what we strive for. We talk about a proper Temple, as written in the scriptures, not [one that is] adjacent to a mosque.”
“Of course, I will be happy if there is freedom of worship for Jews on Temple Mount and a place of prayer as an interim solution, but that is not our goal and not what we strive for. For me this is clearly the continuation of Zionism. If one reads the writings of the founders of the state, one sees it was clear to them this is a Jewish state, that there will be a Temple in it and that we would conquer all of Eretz Yisrael [Land of Israel].”
“For practical considerations, they concealed this and in fact their dream was forgotten. They toiled over a democratic state and the Jewish matter in the state was side-lined. We don’t want this to happen on Temple Mount as well, that there will be freedom of worship for Jews and that it will be the end of the story, but rather, we strive for the establishment of the Temple.”
The young movement functions on a voluntary basis and there are no paid workers whatsoever in it. The organisation funds its activity via small donors who contribute at the fundraising tables placed from time to time around the country. According to Moris, there were some “heavy” (his term) donors, who took an interest in a significant contribution, but Shabak prevented this. “Every big donor, and there were several, Shabak called them and warned them not to contribute, and they disappeared [i.e., severed all ties].”
According to Moris, the movement’s impact is wide and visible. “Even in secular places, even if they don’t agree with the mode of activity, there is sympathy for the struggle itself. That’s what happens when there is a face to face encounter. A major change can also be seen in the Ultra-Orthodox public, and the number of Ultra-Orthodox people going up to Temple Mount is increasing significantly.”
If in the past, rabbis of the Ultra-Orthodox public and a substantial part of the religious nationalist rabbis were vehemently opposed to ascending the Temple Mount from a Halachic [religious] perspective, things are different now, according to Moris. “Rabbis who were categorically opposed ten years ago, even if they do not allow the ascension of the mountain, they will say there are those who can be trusted on this matter.”
The Hilltop Youths have no religious figures by whose instructions they act, and the same goes for the Hozrim Lahar movement. The activists decide independently on the type of action and consult rabbis Dov Lior, Yisrael Ariel and Menachem Makover only on religious questions.
Moris rejected the judges’ statements that “Temple Mount is a powder keg which is just awaiting a small spark to ignite it and the whole region,” and shared his credo: “The Temple Mount is not a powder keg, but a keg of raw material, and it all depends on the way in which we perceive this. The moment the state pays attention to every post by some Arab on Facebook and gets excited about it, that’s the problem. The Arabs’ claims are not specific to the Temple Mount, but rather as to the very existence of the State of Israel. If we lose Temple Mount, we will lose everything eventually.”
The fact that activism towards the construction of the Temple in the mosques’ stead may, to put it mildly, invoke the wrath of Muslims does not disturb Moris. “We should conduct our affairs as an independent state and do what’s right for us. The moment we act this way, the Arabs will understand the hint and whoever accepts us will stay and whoever does not will leave, just like what happened in ‘48.”
Translation by Ofer Neiman.