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.