The controversy surrounding the Bab al-Rahma (Gate of Mercy or Golden Gate) prayer hall, located east of al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, resurfaced on Saturday after the Wakf claimed that Israel Police officers halted renovation work at the site.
The site was closed by court order in 2003 after the police discovered that members of the Islamic Movement in the Israel-Northern Branch were using it for political activities. Despite the closure, Palestinian activists have made repeated attempts to reopen it.
In 2019, activists reopened the entrance to the prayer hall, allowing hundreds of Muslim worshipers to pray. When the police tried to close the area again, they were met with protests by Muslim worshipers, the Jordanian-controlled Wakf Islamic religious trust and the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinians and Jordanians consider the Bab al-Rahma prayer hall a mosque and an integral part of al-Aqsa Mosque compound, or al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), which is administered by the Wakf in east Jerusalem.
In the aftermath of the 2019 protests, Israel reportedly reached an agreement with the Wakf to keep the site closed, while allowing Muslim worshipers to pray near it.
Last Saturday, however, police officers reportedly entered Bab al-Rahma and removed electricity cables and construction materials from the prayer hall.
The move sparked a wave of condemnations by the Wakf and several Palestinian officials and factions, who see it as part of an Israeli scheme to divide the Temple Mount in time and space between Muslim and Jewish worshipers.
Israeli authorities accused of violating al-Aqsa Mosque sanctity
The Wakf Department accused the Israeli authorities of “violating the sanctity of al-Aqsa Mosque.” It emphasized that the Bab al-Rahma prayer hall is an “original part of the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque” and said that the Wakf rejects any intervention of police in the renovation work carried out at the holy site.
The Palestinian mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, accused Israeli authorities of carrying out an “aggression” against al-Aqsa and the Bab al-Rahma prayer section. He called on all Muslims to converge on the holy site to “defend” it against the “aggression.” The mufti also warned Israel of the “grave consequences” of its actions at the Temple Mount.
“The mosque belongs only to Muslims,” he said. “We reject any [Israeli] attempt to interfere in the administration of the Islamic holy sites. We are opposed to any attempt to alter the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif.”
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said in response to Saturday’s alleged incident at the prayer section that Israel was “determined to escalate its religious war on our holy sites.” He added: “The battle over the identity of al-Aqsa Mosque is ongoing. The mosque’s identity is Palestinian-Arab-Islamic.”
“We reject any [Israeli] attempt to interfere in the administration of the Islamic holy sites. We are opposed to any attempt to alter the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif.”Sheikh Mohammed Hussein
Tareq Silmi, a spokesman for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas, warned that Israeli attempts to “control” the Bab al-Rahma site won’t succeed. “The Palestinian people won’t relinquish their duties towards al-Aqsa Mosque and the entire compound, including prayer halls,” he remarked. “Any harm caused to the Islamic holy sites will have tremendous repercussions on the region.”