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Temple Mount status quo – the reality




In 1948, the State of Israel was established and Jerusalem was divided between Jordan and Israel. The Jewish holy sites ended up on the Jordanian side. According to the ceasefire agreement signed by Jordan and Israel, Jews were to be allowed access to the places sacred to them that were located under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom.

Among these places were the Western Wall and the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives – the largest and most ancient Jewish cemetery in the world. Jordan did not honour this commitment. Ancient Jerusalem and its holy sites were closed to Jews.

On June 5, 1967, Jordan initiated heavy artillery shelling of the Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. In the aftermath of the war that was forced on Israel, the city was re-united. After a gap of 19 years, Jews were once again able to visit their holy sites. After hundreds of years of Ottoman Muslim rule, the Temple Mount became accessible to Jews. In those days, Israeli Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan delineated the famous status quo on the Temple Mount.

Temple MountThe status quo determined that the Temple Mount, which is the most sacred place in the world to Judaism, would be handed over to Islam, which counts the Mount as its third holiest site.

An aerial view of the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem

The Muslims were granted religious and administrative autonomy. The Jews were forbidden to pray on the Mount, but they were allowed to visit there. Minister Dayan placed responsibility for the security of the site and the surrounding areas in the hands of Israel.

The status quo on the Temple Mount is based on a concession unprecedented in relations between religions and peoples: never before had a religion or a people voluntarily given up control of its holiest site and rights to it.

Israel has always upheld the status quo on the Temple Mount and continues to do so today. Freedom of worship for Muslims there is absolute. Every year during the month of Ramadan, hundreds of thousands of Muslims go up to al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the huge plaza of the Temple Mount.

Attempts by Jews to pray on the Mount, as well as attempts to change the status quo, are consistently prevented by the Israeli government. For almost 50 years, Israel’s position on the Temple Mount has been guided by the desire to keep the national-territorial controversy from turning into a religious conflict.

In contrast, radical Islamist groups have been taking unilateral actions for the past two decades that have changed the status quo on the Mount.They built there, without a permit, two more mosques: the El-Marwani Mosque in the area known as Solomon’s Stables, and al-Aqsa Qadima (Ancient Al-Aqsa), underneath the al-Aqsa Mosque. Radical Muslim militants began to regularly harass Jewish and other non-Muslim visitors to the Mount, and to receive a monthly payment for their efforts.


Temple Mount arial view from south FULL

The Temple Mount in a close-up aerial view

From time to time, and more insistently in the past two years, they smuggle makeshift weapons into the al-Aqsa Mosque: stones, petrol bombs, fireworks and iron bars, which they hurl and fire at visitors and police officers. Not once and not twice, they have thrown stones from the Temple Mount on to Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall directly below. Hamas and ISIS flags have been waved at political rallies held on the Mount. In sermons, Jews have been referred to as “monkeys” and “heretics” and accused of defiling the Temple Mount with their presence.
Many Muslim religious leaders have expanded the definition of “al-Aqsa” and now use it to refer to the entire Temple Mount and its surrounding walls, including the Western Wall. Furthermore, they deny any Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and have begun to call the Holy Jewish Temple that stood there for centuries “al-Maz’um” which means: the alleged, the false.

Now, many of them are spreading the mendacious slogan, “al-Aqsa is in danger”. They are propagating the absurd and false accusation of Israel allegedly wanting to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque and to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. In the last two years, many Muslim terrorists, armed with knives, guns and steering wheels, have stabbed, shot and rammed into Jews, murdering people all over Israel. All in the name of the imagined danger to al-Aqsa.  

This is a blood libel

Israel is faithfully protecting the right of Muslims to freedom of worship on the Temple Mount and in their prayer houses, to the point of infringing on the rights of the Jews. Israeli forces have also thwarted attempts by individual radical Jews, Christians and Muslims to harm the holy site.

In an attempt to minimise the influence of radical Islamic elements who engaged in subversive activities on the Temple Mount and in its surroundings, Israel has in recent years enhanced Jordan’s role in the management of the Mount almost to a partnership. Jordan’s special status was also recognised in the Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994, as well as in the understandings recently drafted by American Secretary of State John Kerry, which were accepted by both Israel and Jordan. These understandings reiterated the basic tenets of the status quo, which forbid Jews from praying on the Temple Mount but guarantee their right to visit there. 

  • Nadav Shragai is a senior research fellow at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, a veteran journalist and Jerusalem expert. His books include: “The ‘Al-Aksa is in Danger’ Libel – The History of a Lie” and “Jerusalem: Delusions of Division” (2015) , published in English by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, as well as “The Struggle over the Temple Mount – Jews and Muslims, Religion and Politics”, published in Hebrew by Keter Publishing House.

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