Tussle over the Temple Mount

Reports of trouble on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem are fairly common in the news from the Middle East. Those reports often feature a complaint against the Israelis. One such report by the Middle East Monitor on Monday 4th March quoted Sheikh Salhab, a member of the Waqf council that oversees the Islamic site, as saying:

“Israel does not respect any agreement regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque … Before the eyes of the world, Israel claims that it maintains freedom of worship for Muslims, but the truth is that its security services are working all the time to disturb them.”

Israeli police on the Temple MountThe Temple Mount - a place of tension (photo: Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency)

Indeed, a report from the Al Arabiya news organisation in February featured the arrest of Sheikh Salhab by Israeli police, two days after he re-opened a mosque in the Golden Gate area of the Temple Mount – an area that was sealed-off by Israel during violence in 2003.

That arrest followed days of tension between the police and Muslim religious authorities over access to this particular corner of the 35-acre compound which is known to Muslims as The Noble Sanctuary.

A day later, the Algemeiner website claimed that the Palestinians in Jerusalem had achieved a longed-for victory when Muslim worshipers crowded into the Golden Gate area of the Temple Mount. Israeli police arrested dozens of people, but Muslim worship went ahead at the site.

Some observers think that this latest confrontation over the Golden Gate is the result of a new pact between the opponents of Donald Trump’s forthcoming peace deal – those opponents including the Palestinian Authority, Turkey and Jordan.

The Waqf council has been expanded recently and it is thought that new hard-line members of the council who identify with Fatah, Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey, have pushed for this latest confrontation in order to change the status quo at the site.

And that view is supported by a detailed report into the situation titled ‘The Eroding Status-Quo (Power Struggles on the Temple Mount)’ which was produced in 2017 for the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. It claims that:

‘Since the opening of the Western Wall Tunnel exit in September 1996, Muslims have gradually gnawed away at the definition of the status-quo by taking unilateral actions and sometimes by closing the Temple Mount for visitors.’

Members of the Waqf council have now rejected an Israeli court order to shut the Temple Mount’s Golden Gate again, thus they seem determined to have a showdown with Israeli authorities.

The overall view is that this is a determined effort by the Waqf council to establish a greater degree of control over the site.

Originally it contained just one mosque. Currently that number has expanded to five.

UPDATE 8th March

Israeli news organisation TV7 reports that Jordanian officials are holding extensive talks with Israeli officials in an attempt to decrease the current tensions. However, it seems that they are determined to keep the recently re-opened site active and not allow the Israelis to close it again.

TV7`s earlier report about the tensions on 6th March can be viewed here: