Jewish activists are claiming that a new mosque has been inaugurated on the Temple Mount, despite a court order that the status quo be upheld on the holy site.
According to the right-wing Regavim organization, the Jerusalem Wakf Islamic religious trust has initiated a mosque at the Temple Mount’s Gate of Mercy. The organization petitioned the High Court of Justice on the eve of Jerusalem Day for a temporary injunction that would close the structure and restore the status quo at the site.
The Wakf “has taken steps to permanently turn a historic structure at the Temple Mount’s Mercy Gate into a mosque, carrying out construction work that has irreparably damaged the ancient building,” Regavim said in a statement.
The organization noted the installation of ceiling fans, lighting, furniture and room dividers inside a 1,400-year-old structure located at the site. These permanent changes, according to Regavim, have harmed the ancient structure and were done without any oversight from the Antiquities Authority, as required by law.
Shlomo Vile, who went up to pray on the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day, confirmed Regavim’s description. He told The Jerusalem Post
that from what he saw, it is “clear there is activity by the Gate of Mercy. Muslims were milling around and there were prayer rugs scattered about.”
A Wakf official told the Post
that the site was reopened during Ramadan as hundreds of thousands of worshipers converged on al-Aqsa compound for Friday prayers. He said that in accordance with understandings reached between Israel and the Jordanian-controlled Wakf authorities, the site will be closed again in the near future for “renovations.”
But Regavim is arguing that this cannot be trusted. In 1967, there was one mosque on the Temple Mount. Today, counting the new one, there are five.
“When a structure turns into a mosque, it means that they took over the place,” Regavim spokesman Avraham Binyamin told the Post.
“Once they use it for prayer, then no one else can use it – not Jews, not Christians.”
This week’s petition is not Regavim’s first one to the High Court against Muslim use of the site. In March, the organization submitted a similar petition. Justice Meni Mazuz accepted the petition and gave the government and the Wakf 90 days to respond, which the organization said allowed the Wakf time to transform the compound. Though Regavim requested that the time for response be reduced, the court would not approve the request.
Earlier, the defense establishment identified radical Islamist activity at the site, and the government requested a court order to shut down the site, which was issued by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court. The Wakf ignored the court order and continued its construction project.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the end of February that “Israel has not given its consent to opening the mosque on the Temple Mount.” A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office at the time declared that Netanyahu had given instructions “to enforce the court order without compromise and to ensure that the site remains closed.”
However, no overt action was taken.
The Gate of Mercy had been closed by court order since 2003, when the court determined that radical Muslim activity was taking place in the area. Before that, the structure had been used as a storage room.
EARLIER THIS YEAR, a series of riots erupted on the Temple Mount and thousands of Palestinians stormed the gate, which led to the arrest of two senior Wakf officials, including a prominent sheikh. In response, Muslims took over the ancient structure and began the process of turning it into a mosque, threatening increased violence if Israel shut it down.
The site, venerated as holy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike, is where the First and Second Temples used to stand.
At the time of the Muslim takeover, a group of Israeli activists countered their claim by calling on the government to establish a synagogue on the Temple Mount and open it for Jewish prayer instead.
“If the status quo is broken anyway, then Israel needs to break it, too,” said Asaf Fried, a spokesman for an association of organizations dedicated to Jewish rights on the Temple Mount at the time. He argued that Jews should be allowed to pray there.
“We need a place to pray and we want that structure near the Gate of Mercy,” he told the Post
Establishing a synagogue is not unprecedented, explained Ya’acov Hayman, head of the Yishai Organization for the Establishment of Synagogues on the Temple Mount. He said that in Temple times, there was always a synagogue near the Temple.
“The Talmud tractate that talks about Yom Kippur clearly states there was a synagogue,” he said.
His organization has mapped the Temple Mount and created renderings for where up to four synagogues could be located on the holy site.
Arnon Segal, a Temple Mount activist for the last 20 years, said that he believes there are two competing realities happening right now with regards to the mount. On the one hand, the ability for Jews to go up on the Temple Mount has improved.
“Yesterday, they opened the gates for Jews even though it was the end of Ramadan; that is huge,” he said, referring to Jews being allowed to go up on the mount for Jerusalem Day. “It is because the public has pushed and pushed and focused on making sure that they would open it. This was historic.
“Now we need to use Jerusalem Day to get stronger,” he continued.
On the other hand, he said, while the Temple Mount was already Muslim when the Jews won the 1967 Six Day War and reunified Jerusalem, “it is getting worse and more intense, as they break more and more rules up there and build more, and they are wiping out our ancient archaeology and replacing it with mosques. They are trying to make it 100% Muslim.”
Segal said Jews do not want to pray on the Temple Mount in exchange for or at the expense of Muslims. Rather, Jews want equality as described in the Tanach: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 57:6).
“Everyone who wants to pray there should be able to go up,” Segal said.
Hayman said he believes that “anything that has to do with the Temple Mount comes to the desk of Netanyahu,” and that what the prime minister is letting happen at the Gate of Mercy is “a disgrace to the State of Israel.”
The Temple Mount is “the holiest place for the Jewish people,” far-Right politician Baruch Marzel told the Post
in a previous interview. “Our enemies are taking it over; they are breaking the law, destroying archaeology sites and disgracing Judaism and God. We have to fight.”
Added Binyamin, “The Temple Mount is the heart of the city and the heart of our Jewish faith – what we have to do is simple and clear.”Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.
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