Two U.S. congressmen said Thursday that they were detained by police and searched adjacent to the Temple Mount after picking an olive branch off the floor atop the holy site.
Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., visited the Mount as part of a week long fact-finding mission hosted by Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, an evangelical-Christian group that says it's mission is to "educate Christians about their biblical responsibility to stand with our Jewish brethren and Israel, and by Jaffe Strategies, a political consultancy firm that represents a slew of conservative organizations.
McKinley said he had visited the site before, but that the experience was markedly difference today.
"This apparently is the same experience that many Jews have to experience when they are there," McKinley said in a video released by Jaffee Strategies. "They detained us because they thought we shouldn't have something from the holiest of sites. ... This is not my first time at the Temple Mount, (but) I felt this time we were pressured, we were pushed along in a very hurried fashion."
Following the incident, the congressmen raised the issue with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, asking the prime minister if he has "any voice on prayer, and the speed at which you are pushed through? I think it's important for all of — as Christians, as Jews — to be able to experience more of the Temple Mount," said McKinley.
Tipton added that Netanyahu apologised for the incident and said it should not have happened.
"The irony of all this isn't lost — they have problem with the olive branch, the symbol of peace," said Tipton. "People ought to be aware — that a holy site for the Jewish religion, and also for islam, to be run through like cattle, without the freedom to be able to stop, to be able to pray."
Police initially denied reports that the Congressmen had been detained, confirming in a statement that the lawmakers had visited the site but that the visit had proceeded without incident.
"The two congressmen and their wives visited the Temple Mount this morning after visiting the Old City yesterday. Police escorted them during the visit. Toward the end of the visit police asked them if they had removed anything from the site. The issue was quickly clarified and the congressman continued their visit according to plan.
"They were not detained or arrested," police said.
However, following the video release Police foreign press spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told TPS that the Congressmen "were asked a number of questions after they left the (Temple Mount)."
"When they left the site, the Congressmen – who are in their 60s and 70s – were physically pulled aside and held outside the police station. Police repeatedly told them in Hebrew that they could not go as they were 'detained.' At least one was frisked and made to empty his pockets," Hyman said.
The United States Consulate General in Jerusalem and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv had not responded to requests for comments as of this writing.
Written by Andrew Friedman