Hours before the sun rose Monday morning, the former governor of Arkansas, presidential candidate and proud father of President Donald Trump’s press secretary, Mike Huckabee, set out on a politically provocative journey. Joined by 5,000 messianic Israeli settlers, Huckabee led an incursion under the armed guard of the Israeli army into the occupied West Bank city of Nablus to perform religious rituals at Joseph’s Tomb. By Huckabee’s side was Bezalel Smotrich, the fanatically right-wing member of parliament who recently unveiled his proposal to slaughter Palestinians who refuse to accept inferior status under Israeli apartheid rule.
“I hope the days comes when the freedom for God's People to come and to pray is uninhibited and unhindered by any violence,” Huckabee intoned inside the tomb, “... that you could do it in the daylight, in the sunshine, and not in the darkness of night.”
Days later, Huckabee met with member of parliament named Yehudah Glick, the man whom Israeli police labeled the “most dangerous man in the Middle East,” following a long period of bloodshed sparked by his provocations.
Glick is the public face of the Temple Movement, an apocalyptic outfit masquerading as a campaign for Jewish prayer rights. The movement aims to wrest control of the Al Aqsa compound from its Muslim stewards by bulldozing the Islamic holy site and building a Jewish temple in its place. Next, it plans to install a rigid theocracy over all residents of the Holy Land that wages genocidal wars of conquest across the Middle East and beyond, carrying out ISIS-style beheadings against anyone who dares to resist.
“God commanded us to go from city to city, conquering them,” Chief Rabbi of the Temple Movement, Yisrael Ariel, explained in a closed meeting in 2014. “If they surrender and say, ‘From now on, there will be no more Christianity, no more Islam…’ then we will let you live. If not, you kill all of their men by sword!”
In Glick’s Temple Movement, Huckabee has found the Israeli counterpart to American Christian Zionism: an apocalyptic crusade hell bent on waging civilizational warfare against the followers of Islam. It has been a partnership long in the making, with Glick winning fans through extended appearances on Christian Zionist online channels like “The Coming Apocalypse” and “In the Last Days.”
Huckabee's night jaunt came days before his former rival President Donald Trump made the second stop of his “Tolerance Tour” in Israel, following the billionaire commander-in-chief’s bizarre sword dance and terror-orb spectacle in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While media coverage was focused was on Trump’s miscues and gaffes, Huckabee was forging alliances with two of the most extreme figures in a country whose government is already dominated by them.
Consisting of a tiny number of extremists on the fringes of Israeli society just a few decades ago, the Temple Movement has grown exponentially over the last decades. As its ideological home in the Religious Zionist camp has taken control of the country’s institutions, they have developed into a highly organized movement with broad public support, political influence and deep pockets.
Throughout the week, the Jerusalem municipality put on festivities celebrating the Israeli military’s conquest of the city 50 years before. Hours before Huckabee’s prayer march, several hundred Israelis gathered to watch a light show projected onto an outer wall of Jerusalem’s Old City and into the night sky, depicting Israel’s bullet-ridden conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967 as the latest stage in the reincarnation of biblical Jewish kingdoms.
“The Temple Mount and the Western Wall will always remain under Israeli sovereignty,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared. The mention of the Temple Mount was a new development for the Prime Minister – a nod to the political power of the emergent Temple Movement.
This past week, dozens of religious figures and members of parliament launched an unprecedented video campaign calling for Jewish incursions to the compound. The campaign’s most prominent leader was Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev, who made headlines when she wore a dress depicting the Al Aqsa compound and Jerusalem skyline at the Cannes Film Festival last week.
“I am calling on all of you – women, men, religious and secular – come ascend the Temple Mount to Jerusalem Day,” Regev said, standing at the Western Wall plaza with the Al Aqsa compound visible in the background.
Dozens of other political bigwigs released videos calling for Jewish ascent to the compound, from Likud’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely to Yehuda Etzion, a leader of the 1980s Jewish Underground militant network who served a brief prison sentence for plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock.
As Jerusalem Day kicked off, at least 1,000 settlers heeded the calls for Jewish ascent to Al Aqsa, flocking from religious seminaries around the country and West Bank settlements to the Moroccan Gate of the Old City. There, they entered the compound under military protection as soldiers assaulted Palestinians who challenge their presence.
While Jewish prayer at the compound is forbidden according to the status-quo agreed upon in 1967 – and per a nearly 2,000-year-old rabbinical ban that forbids any Jewish presence at the compound, let alone prayer, because of its holiness in Judaism – Temple Movement agitators see praying at Al Aqsa as a way to instigate violence and force Israeli authorities to accommodate them. In 2008, then Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, conceded that Jewish prayer at the Al Aqsa compound would lead to “provocation, resulting in disorder, with a near certain likelihood of subsequent bloodshed.” (Now a member of the Likud central committee, Dichter panders to the Temple Movement, promising its members in March that he would personally visit the Al Aqsa compound to “strengthen Israeli sovereignty.”)
Though Israeli public discourse about Al Aqsa is couched in a liberal discourse of “prayer rights,” the ideological core of the Temple Movement actually wishes to abolish the concept of prayer entirely. It aims instead to revert to what it considers the purest form of worship: animal sacrifice.
Indeed, the hardcore organizers at the heart of of the movement, the Temple Institute, often put on animal sacrifice events in public spaces in preparation for the construction of a Jewish temple – or what would more accurately be described as a slaughterhouse of worship. According to their teachings, 10,000 to 15,000 animals would be sacrificed on the Passover holiday and priests would smear animal blood on the walls as it filled the temple’s central chamber and rose to the ankle. Jews who refuse who participate in the Passover sacrifice by eating a morsel of the animal flesh would be beaten to death.
As hundreds of Israelis toured the premise of the Al Aqsa compound, several dropped down into prone position and began to recite Shema Yisrael, the daily Jewish prayer, before being brisked away by Israeli police. Another group of settlers sang HaTikvah, Israel's national anthem, as they entered the compound. Palestinian security guards who protested were beaten and detained by Israeli police.
As it gains influence over the Israeli government, the Temple Movement's activities have fueled the flames of violence across the Holy Land. In 2015, Glick and his far-right acolyte, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, successfully lobbied Prime Minister Netanyahu to outlaw the Mourabitat and Mourabitoun, groups of Muslim worshippers who posed no physical threat to Jewish worshippers but who heckled settlers attempted to ascend to the Al Aqsa compound by shouting “God is great!” The ban sparked clashes across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with numerous incidents of Palestinians killed by Israeli police in the streets of East Jerusalem and at checkpoints in Hebron – most notably when an Israeli medic summarily executed Abdel Fatah al-Sharif.
Palestinians incensed by the escalation of violence launched demonstrations across Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, sometimes attempting to stab Israeli soldiers. Those bearing knives, and those falsely seen as attackers, were typically shot to death, often execution style. Israel’s security establishment pointed to Glick and the Temple Movement’s activities as a driving factor in the violence.
With tension brewing again around Jerusalem, Israeli escalations at the Al Aqsa compound and the rising power of the Temple Movement could spark a bloody summer of holy war. As one Israeli soldier recently remarked, “Every year, in spring you train. In the summer, you find out if it will really happen.”