Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday barred all Cabinet ministers and members of the Knesset -- Israel's parliament -- from visiting a disputed holy site in Jerusalem, the Associated Press reported. Violence has engulfed the country for weeks, and Netanyahu ordered the ban because he was concerned that any visits to the site could spur even more violence.
“Terrorists that have been incited and who are riven with hate are trying to attack our people -- babies, children, men and women, civilians and soldiers,” Netanyahu said in a news conference Thursday night, the New York Times reported. “The terrorists and the extremists behind them will achieve nothing. We will rebuff them and we will defeat them.”
The Jerusalem hilltop had been at the crux of current tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. The Old City site is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, while Muslims honor it as the Noble Sanctuary. Jews are allowed to visit the site during specific hours, but not pray there. The most recent unrest occurred last month when Palestinians repeatedly barricaded themselves inside a mosque at the site and threw stones, firebombs and fireworks at police. Since then, the violence has spread to other areas and people on both sides of the conflict have been killed.
Netanyahu’s initial ban applied only to Jewish lawmakers, but after backlash he updated the ban to include all lawmakers. Several Arab lawmakers were upset about the ban, and said that Netanyahu has no authority over them. In defiance of the ban, two lawmakers announced that they have planned to visit the site Friday.
“Netanyahu is not the king, not the law, and I don’t give a hoot about his decision,” said Arab lawmaker Jamal Zahalk, the New York Times reported. “The fact that there is a government decision still does not mean there is a court order forbidding me from going in, and I intend to enter.”