A group of Muslim men
stalked a delegation of U.S. Representatives who were visiting the Temple Mount. Both Muslims and Jews consider it a holy place. Speaking August 11, Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA), “We walked up there, and were almost immediately approached by several men who started shouting. We were tracked the entire time we were there and found these individuals surprisingly intolerant and belligerent.” During the visit, the delegation was constantly interrupted by shouting Arab men, and later by Islamic Waqf staff. The site is known among Muslims as the Dome of the Rock. The impressive dome-shaped building housing the site was designed and built centuries ago by Byzantine Christians for the Muslim authorities who had seized the Holy Land. The place happens to be co-situated with what remains of the temple built by Jewish King Solomon before the birth of Jesus Christ.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) said the harassment, “There was an effort to completely suppress not only any expression of religious conviction, but any articulation of historical reality.” Franks is the co-chairman of the Israel Allies Foundation’s congressional caucus. He added that the stalking and harassment “shows the fundamental dynamics of the greater contention throughout the Middle East.”
Franks, Rothfus (R-PA), Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and his wife Elizabeth Jenkins were guests of the Israel Allies Foundation, an umbrella organization supporting 33 parliamentary caucuses around the world that mobilize political support for Israel based on shared Jewish and Christian values.
Mrs. Jenkins, who was wearing a calf-length skirt and a long-sleeved shirt, was also jeered by the men who demanded that she wear clothing that suited them. Police were called in to protect the delegation and clear their way.
While the delegation heard a description of the site from their guide, a man who was not part of the delegation interrupted and began asking questions about the maps and diagrams used by the guide. The man insisted that the guide should not use the term “Temple Mount” but “Dome of the Rock” instead. Men wearing shirts bearing the Waqf insignia interrupted the delegation’s guide and attempted to steal his diagrams and map. The guide told them that he was doing nothing illegal and would only stop if told to do so by police. “Our guide was very respectful but very appropriately strong in his convictions. He was not confrontational, but handled it very appropriately,” Jenkins said.
Soon, a group of nearly 20 men arrived and escalated the harassment. Police had to intervene again. However, the Muslim men continued to shadow the congressional delegation for the duration of the visit. EJ Kimball, Director of US Operations for the Israel Allies Foundation said the congressional delegation “wasn’t doing anything controversial, no one was even wearing a yarmulke. [The Muslims on the Mount] did a good job of making everyone feel very uncomfortable just for being up there as a non-Muslim.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, members of the delegation saw that a Muslim crowd was harassing a group of Jewish visitors, shouting Allahu Akbar (Allah is great!). The newspaper said that the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel pays Murbitat, meaning protectors of holy places, who harass non-Muslim visitors, thousands of shekels every month. The groups of Murbitat are often led by women dressed head-to-toe in black, with their faces covered.
Congressman Jenkins said he was shocked by the behavior of the men who confronted the group at a site which has great religious meaning to him, a Christian. The West Virginia congressman said his experience was “unsettling,” adding that “in America we watch conflict around the world on the evening news. It’s unfortunate to walk on to the Temple Mount and see conflict not half a world away, but feet away.”
Congressman Franks said that while he believes in tolerance and acceptance of all religions, he reflected on the challenges faced by Israelis and the harassment meted out by Muslims at the religious site. “I wish it was something the world understood more and was more aware of,” Franks said. “Even when visiting a historical site there is harassment, because of people who want to rewrite history.” Franks did not fault Israeli authorities’ policies regarding the Temple Mount. He said that “in general, when there is a lack of resolve in protecting religious freedoms, it emboldens those who have no compunction about suppressing it.” When asked if he felt his freedom of expression was violated, Congressman Rothfus said “certainly.” He added, “We weren’t doing anything religious. We were learning the history of the Temple Mount.”
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