Palestinian men pray outside the Temple Mount after Israel removed the new security measures there, in Jerusalem's Old City July 25, 2017. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the heat of the midday sun outside the Temple Mount, Palestinian sentiment regarding the site was uncompromisingly clear and bellicose: Jews have no rights to the compound and Israel has no right to take control of it.
Palestinians once again flocked to the entrances to Mount on Tuesday, but prayed outside of the holy site again despite the removal of the metal detectors that generated so much opposition from the Palestinian political and religious leadership.
Although the prayers passed peacefully, there was a heavy police presence around the Temple Mount and throughout the Old City of Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, with border police wearing heavy neck-guards to block any stabbing attacks.
Bowing and prostrating themselves in unison, while an impish young boy sprayed water on the faithful to keep them cool in the fierce sun, the message from worshipers was that government’s attempt to increase security measures was an excuse to exert more control over the holy site.
“This place is holy to Muslims alone, no one else,” insisted Ayad al-Ayoubi, a resident of the Muslim Quarter and one of the worshipers.
“The people responsible for this place are Muslims, and if they [Muslims] want to make changes, they can, but the government of Israel is a government of occupation and according to international law they occupied this land and they have no rights to change these things here in Jerusalem.”
Ayoubi rejected the idea that the metal detectors and security cameras were designed to bolster security, following the slaying of two Israeli policemen
two weeks ago by Arab-Israeli gunmen using weapons that had been smuggled onto the Temple Mount.
He argued that an assailant could attack and kill police personnel before they reached the gates.
“It is political to gradually take control of the site, but they have no right to live in this place and take control of us; we the Palestinian people must be free, not under the Israeli occupation,” he said, adding that the Palestinians would only resume praying in al-Aksa Mosque once all new security measures were removed.
Kenan, another worshiper from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras el-Amud, was of similar mind.
He said even though the metal detectors and the security cameras were removed from Lions’ Gate, different sensors and cameras still remained.
“This is not acceptable, we must be able to enter the mosque freely, without checkpoints, cameras or sensors, this is a place for praying only,” said Kenan, noting the cabinet approved NIS 100 million to install new security systems at the Temple Mount and its entrances.
And, like Ayoubi, he was of the opinion that the extra security measures were a cover to extend Israeli control of the Temple Mount and al-Aksa.
“Putting the cameras there is about controlling al-Aksa Mosque, security is an excuse, but control of al-Aksa Mosque is only for the Palestinians.
“Jews have a right to visit peacefully like any other tourists in cooperation with us, but not to pray.”
Kenan rejected the notion that Jews have any historical or religious attachment to the Temple Mount and insisted there was never a Jewish temple at the site.
“There is nothing Jewish here, nationally or religiously,” he declared.
And speaking more broadly, Kenan said that he would never accept even a prayer-time sharing agreement for Jews and Muslims on the Temple Mount as exists in Hebron at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, or a peace deal with Israel that involves sharing sovereignty or control of the holy site.
He demanded to know why “the Jewish people or the government of Israel want to put their hands” on every mosque.
“I listen to the soul of Jerusalem and the soul of al-Aksa Mosque. This is our identity, it can never be shared, it’s for Muslims and Palestinians only.”