Jerusalem's Temple Mount

Behind the Headlines: Jerusalem's Temple Mount

11/17/2014

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the two Jewish Temples were located, is the holiest site in Judaism. Called Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) by Muslims, the site contains the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam, the iconic Dome of the Rock (which is not a mosque) and many other small structures.
 
Copyright: Reuters
Freedom of worship and the status quo:

Israel's official policy, first laid down in its Declaration of Independence, protects freedom of religion and worship for all faiths. Israel places the utmost importance on facilitating worship by Muslims and Christians in their respective holy sites, including in Jerusalem. Moreover, Jewish holy sites (among them the Western Wall), are open to visitors of all faiths, as are the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Freedom to worship has not always been respected throughout Jerusalem's history. For example, in the modern era, Jews were denied the right to worship in their holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem between 1948 and1967.

After Jerusalem's reunification in 1967, Israel's leadership chose to uphold the existing status quo on the Temple Mount. Out of respect for Muslim sensibilities, it allowed the Islamic Waqf to continue to administer the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.

Non-Muslims (Israelis and tourists) are allowed to visit the Temple Mount at fixed times, but do not enter the al-Aqsa Mosque itself: they visit other parts of the site and usually walk around the large open spaces. In addition, Jews and other non-Muslims are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount. The al-Aqsa Mosque is situated at the southern edge of the Temple Mount and covers a relatively small part of its surface. Most evidence places the historical Jewish Temples on a different part of the Temple Mount than that now occupied by the mosque.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly declared that the Government of Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and will oppose any proposal to change it. The Prime Minister has repeatedly stressed, in his talks with King Abdullah as well as in his public statements, Israel’s commitment to preserving the status quo on the Temple Mount and Jordan’s special role regarding the holy sites of Islam in Jerusalem, as written in the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, article 9.


Palestinian violence on the Temple Mount:

While Israeli authorities take measures designed to ensure freedom of religion, allow access to Jerusalem's holy sites, uphold the status quo on the Temple Mount and maintain public order, there are many on the Palestinian side who are actively attempting to undermine the delicate balance and long-standing modus vivendi in Jerusalem.

In the past few months, Palestinian radicals have been trying to violate the status quo by preventing Christians and Jews from visiting the Temple Mount. Palestinian rioters are funded and lead by radical Islamist elements, including Hamas and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. They have attacked visitors, as well as the police, with rocks, fireworks, iron rods and even Molotov cocktails. The fireworks used by the rioters were examined in the police's ballistics laboratory and were found to be potentially lethal.

These young men use the al-Aqsa Mosque as their base of operations for premeditated attacks, concealing weapons and explosive materials inside the mosque and hiding in this holy site overnight. In addition, well-organized groups of older men and women physically and verbally harass peaceful Jewish visitors.

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Palestinian violence on the Temple Mount
:

While Israeli authorities take measures designed to ensure freedom of religion, allow access to Jerusalem's holy sites, uphold the status quo on the Temple Mount and maintain public order, there are many on the Palestinian side who are actively attempting to undermine the delicate balance and long-standing modus vivendi in Jerusalem.

In the past few months, Palestinian radicals have been trying to violate the status quo by preventing Christians and Jews from visiting the Temple Mount. Palestinian rioters are funded and lead by radical Islamist elements, including Hamas and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. They have attacked visitors, as well as the police, with rocks, fireworks, iron rods and even Molotov cocktails. The fireworks used by the rioters were examined in the police's ballistics laboratory and were found to be potentially lethal.

These young men use the al-Aqsa Mosque as their base of operations for premeditated attacks, concealing weapons and explosive materials inside the mosque and hiding in this holy site overnight. In addition, well-organized groups of older men and women physically and verbally harass peaceful Jewish visitors.



The role of incitement:

Incitement to violence on the Temple Mount has been conducted by President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority [PA], as well as by extremist Islamist elements.

In recent statements, Abbas has announced that "all means must be used to prevent Jews from going up to the Haram (i.e. Temple Mount)." He called Jewish visitors to their holiest site a "herd." In the past, Abbas has disseminated lies, claiming that Israel is attacking the al-Aqsa mosque and that Jews are "desecrating" it. He has chosen to follow the path of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, and deny the existence of the Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount. 

Abbas knows full well that there is no danger to the mosque, but nevertheless he chose the path of joining the radicals instead of standing against them. The rioters come to the mosque with the sole purpose of fomenting trouble and not for religious reasons. They pretend to be practicing the Islamic tradition of a retreat in the mosque (called Itikaf and practiced usually during the month of Ramadan) when in fact their only purpose is to prepare attacks.

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Abbas' Fatah party and official PA bodies use traditional and social media to spread incitement. For example, on November 5, the PA's National Security Forces published a vicious cartoon on Facebook entitled "Al-Aqsa is being raped" which shows an Israeli soldier pulling down his pants about to attack a crying Arab woman who represents the mosque.

PA National Security Forces Facebook cartoon entitled "Al-Aqsa is being raped"

These and numerous other statements by the PA, led by Abbas, amount to official incitement to violence and can only serve to inflame passions among the Palestinians.

Sadly, conspiracy theories about the Jews threatening to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque have abounded in the region for decades. These false claims, which are exploited by Palestinian and Arab leaders to incite the masses and rally them against the Jews, have often led to violent attacks, starting with the 1929 riots that led to the massacre of over 130 Jews in the Mandate territory.

The accusations that Israel plans to harm the al-Aqsa Mosque are utterly baseless and ridiculous. The fact that they are made not only by Islamist extremists but also by the mainstream Palestinian leadership is an alarming and dangerous phenomenon.


Protecting the Temple Mount:

The Israeli authorities have sought to contain attempts by Islamist extremists to escalate the situation on the Temple Mount while protecting Muslim sensitivities and freedom of worship. Access to the Temple Mount is only restricted when public safety and security is at risk. The Islamic Waqf manages the Temple Mount.

The Israel Police are responsible for law and order on the Mount. Israel prefers not to send police officers into the Temple Mount area, but is sometimes compelled to do so in order to protect the visitors from being attacked by Islamist rioters. As a matter of policy, police officers do not enter the mosque itself, and the rioters take advantage of this.

Although they often find themselves in life-threatening situations, police officers entering the Temple Mount are equipped solely with non-lethal measures. These self-imposed limitations by law enforcement officers are strictly observed.

Israel Police coordinates daily with the Waqf authorities. The Waqf is also encouraged to increase the number of the observers they place on the Mount in order to be able to control and stop those who are trying to violate the status quo, and subsequently also reduce the necessity of police intervention.

At the same time, both Muslim worshippers and visitors from other faiths are expected to respect the status quo. Anyone who breaks the rules - whether they are Muslim, Jewish or members of another faith - is dealt with accordingly by the police.

It is the Palestinian rioters themselves who are damaging and defiling the al-Aqsa Mosque, including by transforming it into a base for attacks. They have destroyed furniture from the mosque for use in constructing barricades and launched fireworks from inside its premises, where carpets and wooden beams could easily catch fire. The rioters are also demonstrating their disrespect for the many Muslim worshippers who simply wish to pray in peace, as well as for the Islamic Waqf that is in charge of managing the site.
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