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Meet the American Hedge Fund Billionaire Who Could Start a 'Holy War' in the Middle East

Henry Swieca funds Temple Institute, an extremist group eyeing Islam's third holiest site.

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The legal prohibitions that surround the holy place haven’t stopped Jews who disagree from going to the Noble Sanctuary.  In recent months, the Washington Post and the New York Times have highlighted the increasing numbers of Jews going up to pray on at the contested site. According to numbers published by an Israeli newspaper, the number of Jews visiting the holy site increased from 5,700 in 2009 to 8,300 in 2011. If Jews are found to be publicly praying, Israeli police take them away, with some being arrested.  But some Jews try to pray discreetly.  

The Temple Institute has been pushing Israeli Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.  In September, the organization teamed up with a right-wing movement called Manhigut Yehudit to lead tours at the site for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

The organization has been encouraged in recent months by a growing body of right-wing, expansionist Israeli legislators who share the Temple Institute’s goal in changing the prohibitions on prayer at the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount.  In November, the HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party, which promotes annexing 60 percent of the occupied West Bank, introduced a bill that would establish regular prayer areas for Jews on the holy site.  On November 4, 2013, a heated debate in the Israeli Knesset broke out in response to proposed changes for prayer on the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount.

“When King David bought the Temple Mount you were savages in the desert. You have no rights on the Temple Mount, that’s a historical fact. Nothing will help you. Even now you are savages,” the Jewish Home’s Orit Strock told Palestinian Knesset members.  In response, Balad’s Jamal Zahalka told her that she was “playing with fire.”

Another Palestinian legislator, Ahmed Tibi, warned that “the second intifada broke out because of Al Aqsa and the third intifada will break out because of you.”

Alex Kane is AlterNet's New York-based World editor, and an assistant editor for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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