(CNSNews.com) – State Department spokesman John Kirby declined to say Wednesday whether the administration considers visits by Israelis to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to constitute incitement to violence, but he did say that “the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”
Kirby said that “incitement can take many forms.”
“We recognize that incitement can go both ways here,” he said. “Whether it’s action or rhetoric, it’s things that encourage others to continue this cycle of violence.”
Visits by Israelis to the compound where the biblical Jewish Temples stood and is now home to two important mosques is not a violation of the “status quo” that has been in place ever since Israel captured the area from Jordan in 1967.
Because of the site’s sensitivity, Israel decided to put Muslims back in charge of the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), and since 1967 it has been under the day-to-day administration of a Jordanian-supervised Islamic trust. And since then, non-Muslims have been permitted to visit – but not to formally pray at – the site.
Although some right-wing Israeli groups have long campaigned for an end to the prayer ban, the Israeli government has stated repeatedly that it has no intention to change the status quo.
If anyone is changing the status quo, the government charges, it is those Muslim Palestinians who have used the site – including the revered Al-Aqsa mosque itself – as a launching pad for pipe bomb and rock attacks against Israeli police, deployed to guard Jews praying at the Western Wall below the hilltop platform.
Amid such clashes at the site last month during Jewish holidays – an important time for Jews to visit – Palestinian religious and political leaders and official media renewed perennial calls that Israel plans to destroy Al-Aqsa. A spate of stabbing and shooting attacks by individual Palestinians since the beginning of October has left seven Israelis dead and dozens wounded
The State Department has been calling for calm and an end to incitement fueling the violence, and Secretary of State John Kerry is planning a visit to the region.
During Wednesday’s daily briefing Matt Lee of the Associated Press asked Kirby whether the administration considers visits by Israelis to the Temple Mount “to be incitement.”
“I’m not going to, you know, be able to characterize every single act with terminology,” he said.
“What the secretary has said, and stands by, is that we want to see the status quo restored, the status quo arrangement there on Haram al-Sharif and the Temple Mount, and for both sides to take actions to de-escalate the tensions.”
“So incitement can take many forms,” Kirby continued. “Again, I’m not going to go through a laundry list of what is or what isn’t.”
“We recognize that incitement can go both ways here,” he added. “But it’s the – whether it’s action or rhetoric, it’s things that encourage others to continue this cycle of violence.”
“Is it the administration’s position that the status quo at the Temple Mount has been broken?” Lee then asked.
“Well, certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”
Lee later returned to the subject, telling Kirby that it “certainly sounds like you’re affixing some kind of blame to Israel if this is, in fact, what the administration believes has led to the violence – the visits by – visit by Israelis to –“
“Well, it’s not about believing it,” Kirby interjected. “The activity there, the status quo not being observed, has led to violence,” he said. “That’s indisputable. That’s not a belief; that’s a fact.”
“But,” he added, “”it’s not about affixing blame on one side or the other.”