On the evening of Oct. 29, Yehuda Glick was hosting his seventh annual Temple Mount Conference at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Center, speaking to an audience of 300 about his 20-year fight for Jewish prayer at the holy site where only Muslims are permitted to pray. When the event wound down at around 10 p.m., Glick went outside to meet his wife in the parking lot. Glick opened the back door of the family car to load some signs and flyers that had been left at the conference. As he turned around, he found himself face to face with a man on a motorcycle who was wearing a helmet. Despite having received numerous death threats, the thought that this man was there to kill him never crossed Glick’s mind.
“He didn’t look scary,” Glick said. “He just looked like somebody who was very determined to comment on something about the conference.”
Five weeks later, resting on a couch in his pajamas at an apartment in Jerusalem where he is recuperating, Glick painted a scene that has until now only been described by others. Despite his willingness to speak about his experience, he asked that his location be kept confidential. “I was looking at his eyes. I didn’t see the pistol,” he remembered. “And he says to me, ‘I’m very sorry but I have to. You are an enemy of Al-Aqsa.’ And then he shot me.”
At 6 feet tall, with glasses, bright red hair, and a beard to match, Glick is easy to identify. The man, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, spoke to him in Hebrew, “almost without an accent,” Glick recalled. “He didn’t ask me my name,” he added, refuting earlier reports that his would-be assassin asked him to identify himself before shooting him four times, in the neck, chest, stomach, and hand.
“He knew exactly who I was. Not only that, a few minutes before passed right by him Members of Knesset Feiglin, Miri Regev, and Deputy Minister Ben-Dahan”—all fiery figures in their own right. “He knew exactly who he was looking for. Look, if you Google in Arabic Yehuda Glick, I’m very, very famous on all the Muslim websites. Pictures of me, calling to kill me, threats on my Facebook page. I had threats all the time. But I never took them seriously.”
A dual American-Israeli citizen, Glick spoke in English, softly and slowly, taking short breaths between nearly every word. He often closed his eyes, both to see the memories playing out in his mind and to relieve his exhaustion. “I didn’t have a clue of what he was going to do. I realized much too late. Only after he had shot me. After he shot me I didn’t have any pain at all. Then suddenly I looked at myself and saw my hand falling apart and blood on my stomach and realized something happened.”
Glick was shot at 10:04 p.m. By 2:30 the next morning, Israeli security forces had killed his assailant, Muataz Hijazi, at his home in Abu Tor, just a few blocks from the Begin Center where Glick’s conference was held. Hijazi was employed at a restaurant in the Begin Center despite previous terror-related charges, which included being an active member of Islamic Jihad.
After spending 25 days in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Glick is now undergoing physical therapy in Jerusalem, which is why he is not staying at his home in the West Bank settlement of Otniel, south of Hebron. At the age of 49, he has eight children, four grandchildren, and another grandchild on the way. Nine surgeries, hundreds of stitches, and damage to his lungs and intestines have left him bedridden for now. The large incision in his stomach is technically open, as his wounds are still seeping. He can barely walk or stand, and his voice is little more than a whisper. “Four bullets. Not one of them touched my heart,” he said. “Not one of them touched any big blood vessel. Not one of them touched any neurological part of my body. Not any nerve. So, I was very lucky … thank God. Many, many thousands of prayers and many, many miracles.”
But if the goal of Glick’s shooter was to silence the Temple Mount movement he leads, his near-assassination may have had the opposite effect. His brush with death seems to have strengthened his resolve, and Glick said that his community is more motivated than ever to fight for Jewish prayer at Judaism’s holiest site. “Three hundred people came to the conference that evening, and later that night they understood that their obligation has been doubled and tripled,” said Glick, who makes a living by leading Jewish tours of the Temple Mount. “I’m going to continue bringing Jews to the Temple Mount.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Glick moved with his family to Israel when he was 8 years old. Through his organization, HaLiba, which translates into English as “Heart,” Glick leads the growing Temple Mount movement, advocating for Jews to be allowed to pray at what is regarded as the holiest place in Judaism. The Temple Mount is where God is believed to have gathered the dust of the earth to create Adam, where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac, and where God’s presence resided until the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., and the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. It is also the site of one of Islam’s most sacred mosques, Al-Aqsa, which is regarded by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary where Muhammad ascended to heaven around the year 621.
While Israel took control of the area when it conquered Jerusalem from the Jordanians in 1967, Jordan retains authority over the Temple Mount, in conjunction with the Islamic Waqf, which has controlled access to the area since the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 1187. While security is maintained by Israel, only Muslims are permitted to pray there, due to the risk of inflaming tensions at the highly combustible site. Israel’s rabbinate also forbids Jews from praying there, in accordance with the rabbinical stance dating back to the 19th century that states that until the temple is rebuilt, Jews are not pure enough to visit this most holy of holy places.
Technically, under Israeli law, Jews are permitted to visit the Temple Mount, so long as they do not pray. But according to Glick and other religious Jews who have visited the site recently, their mere presence attracts physical and verbal attacks. “When any Jew enters the Temple Mount wearing a kippa,” Glick said, “immediately he is surrounded by Muslims, male and female, who scream at you, push you, throw shoes at you, throw chairs at you. They surround you and it can become very frightening.”
In the hours after his assassination attempt, other Temple Mount activists, including Members of Knesset, vowed to visit the Temple Mount the next day, on a Friday, in a show of support for Glick and in an act of defiance against the forces that wished to silence him. In response, Israeli police closed off the Temple Mount completely to all visitors of all ages and religions, out of fear of the violence that would ensue. Israel has issued restrictions against Muslim males of certain ages for security reasons, but that complete closure was the first in years, and it was met with violent riots by Palestinians throughout Jerusalem. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it “a declaration of war.”
When Glick heard that he is considered by some to be the potential cause of a religious war, he nearly laughed, but the wounds in his stomach stopped him. He smiled and said, “Tell me in what world people who speak about tolerance, human rights, and freedom of religion are extremists who are starting a religious war, yet on the other hand people who are throwing stones, attacking people, using physical and verbal violence are considered normal? In what way is my calling for human rights a reason for me to be considered an extremist, someone who’s throwing fuel on a fire?”
While Glick has been the leader of the Temple Mount movement for the last two decades, his name wasn’t well known until the attack that nearly took his life. Since then, he has been the subject of numerous stories, with drastically different descriptions of his character. He is perhaps the only right-wing activist who has managed to garner tacit support from left-wing Israelis, with his framing of the Temple Mount issue as a question of reverse discrimination and religious freedom. On the other hand, Glick is regarded by many others as an extremist, with the New York Times calling him an “agitator” who is “widely viewed as a provocative figure who has exacerbated tensions between Muslims and Jews.”
Yet in talking to Glick about his beliefs and his goals, a much more nuanced narrative emerges. For one, unlike some die-hards in the Temple Mount movement, Glick does not believe that Jewish prayer should replace Muslim prayer. In fact, he envisions the Temple Mount as “a world center for religious tolerance,” where people of any religion can visit and pray. “We should not allow only one religion to take over the Temple Mount and to announce this is ours and nobody else has any right to it,” he said. “Jews, Christians, Muslims, the Temple Mount is the center of all those who are faithful in one God. And I respect their right to pray. And I don’t bother their prayer. And I expect them to respect my right to pray with them.”
Glick admitted that his dream for the most contested 150,000 square meters on earth may be too idealistic, at least under the current political climate. Asked whether he wanted Israel to take over the site from the Jordanians, or for the site to be managed cooperatively, Glick said, “Israel has proven that anywhere we have sovereignty there is religious tolerance. All over Jerusalem there are churches, there are mosques. If it’s together with the Jordanians it’s fine with me. But we need to reach some kind of settlement where people can pray in coexistence.”
Since his release from the hospital, Glick had been reading an interesting book that he kept beside his bed. Titled I Shall Not Hate, it was written by Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician whose three daughters were killed by Israeli tank fire during the 2008-2009 Gaza War. Abuelaish was the first Palestinian doctor to receive a staff position at an Israeli hospital, and in his book he expressed gratitude to Glick’s father, Shimon, a physician who helped Abuelaish secure his residency at Israel’s Soroka University Hospital in Beer Sheva. The doctor now lives in Toronto, where he runs a foundation in honor of his daughters that gives scholarships to young women from Arab countries to pursue higher education. After his attack, Glick said he got a call from Abuelaish, who told him that he was praying for him. “That very much moved me, so I asked my father to find me a copy,” Glick said, adding, “I’m not a hating person. I never was a hating person. I tried always to preach only for freedom, human rights, and tolerance.”
During his 25-day hospital stay, Glick received treatment from both Jewish and Arab medical staff. Upon his release from the hospital, he praised the Arab doctors and nurses who treated him, telling reporters that two staffers named Firas and Mohammed “cared for me with great devotion” and that “the person who shoots another person in the name of Al-Aqsa is the one who is desecrating Al-Aqsa, and the person who treats another person in the hospital is the one who is honoring Islam. The Muslim doctors and nurses who work in the hospital are the people who honor their religion, not the man who shot me.” Speaking to this reporter a week later, Glick said, “unfortunately Islam is represented today in the world by fundamentalist people and by violent people. But they don’t represent Islam. I would say at least 80 percent of Muslims in the world do not support that violence. Unfortunately the violent fundamentalists are much more noisy and much more damaging, and I think they’re causing much more damage, mainly for Islam itself. Muslim physicians bring much more honor to Islam than those who remove heads.”
As Glick derided extremism in all its forms, fundamentalists within his own movement immediately came to mind. Asked to confront these elements, among them Jews who espouse the destruction of Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount in order to pave the way for the construction of the Third Temple, Glick dismissed the notion that there can be any comparison. “I can’t take responsibility for people who use violent language,” he said. “I specifically said that anybody who either physically or just verbally uses violence should not be allowed on the Temple Mount. It’s a sensitive place and I try to discourage people from talking that way. I don’t think that’s God’s way. The only thing is there’s one big difference. There’s never been violence on the Temple Mount coming from the Jewish side. All the violence on a daily basis comes form the Muslim side. But yes, anybody who threatens violence, Jew or non-Jew, should not be allowed on the Temple Mount.”
Despite the ongoing tensions on the Temple Mount, Glick believes that it is only a matter of time before the status quo breaks. “If 50,000 Jews go up to the Temple Mount and demand the right to pray, the government will have to change this situation,” he said, alluding to his long-term goals.
Ticking off the progress he has made in his mission, Glick said, “When I began to go up to the Temple Mount 25 years ago, we were just a handful. Today we’re more than 10,000. We’ve just opened a new course for female guides on the temple mount for religious women who only want to go up to the Temple Mount with a female religious tour guide. Just this past weekend 50 major Israeli rabbis came out with a call for Jews to go up to the Temple Mount. When I began 25 years ago there was not a single rabbi who supported it. Five years ago maybe I had 10 rabbis.”
Given the official rabbinical ban on Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, those figures are quite astonishing, especially given the fact that many in this movement are religious. For his part, Glick disagrees with the rabbinate, noting that his annual Temple Mount conference takes place every year on the day that Maimonides visited the Temple Mount in 1267. “I think Maimonides is a good enough Jewish leader that we can depend on,” Glick said with a smile. “Many politicians support the right to pray on the Temple Mount. It’ll take time. We have patience. But it’s going to happen. There’s no other choice. And if the Muslims decide to use violence, the police and the Israeli government will have to behave the way you behave in a democratic country against violence.”
Unfortunately for Glick, the police have banned him from visiting the very place he quite literally devotes his life to fighting for. His current ban began in early October, just three weeks before his assassination attempt, after a Muslim woman accused him of pushing her to the ground at the Temple Mount, causing her to break her arm. Glick rejects the charge, claiming that both of the policemen who were with him at the time also refute her accusation, which was not caught on videotape. Still, last week a Jerusalem court rejected his appeal, meaning that he will not be visiting the Temple Mount anytime soon. He sees these restrictions as an official effort to keep tensions on the mount under control.
“For many years, many times the police didn’t allow me to go up,” he told me. “I went through hunger strikes, I sued the police and brought them to court and won. Last time they didn’t let me up I was on hunger strike for 53 days. I sued them, and the Supreme Court forced them to let me up. I’ve been to the Supreme Court maybe 10 times already. And always after the Supreme Court they let me back up.” As frustrated as he is by the efforts to keep him from visiting the site, Glick expressed confidence that with or without him physically leading people to the Temple Mount, his goals will be achieved. One day, he said, Jews will hold their bar and bat mitzvahs at the Temple Mount, rather than the Western Wall, and the Third Temple will be rebuilt alongside the Dome of the Rock.
“More and more Jews are going to be visiting the Temple Mount,” he told me, in his whispery voice. “And the Muslims are going to have to get used to it. They’re going to have to tolerate it. They’re going to have to respect it. Just like we respect their right to pray.”
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Yardena Schwartz is an American journalist and Emmy-nominated producer based in Tel Aviv.
Yardena Schwartz is an American journalist and Emmy-nominated producer based in Tel Aviv.