06/29/2019, 09.20
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Explosive situation at Jerusalem’s sacred esplanade

In the past, members of the Jordanian-based Waqf charity could stop incursions by Jewish extremists. Now they are being arrested for this. For Waqf director, tensions could turn "into a religious war". Incursions into the area by Jewish ​​fundamentalists linked to messianic movements continue to rise.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The status quo that governs access to the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount for Jews) in the Old City of Jerusalem has changed in recent years.

In the past, the Waqf or Islamic Endowment, a Jordanian-controlled Islamic charity that runs the third most important sacred site of Islam, could block "incursions and prayers of Jewish extremists;" now, its employees “could be taken to court for this,” said Waqf director Azzam Al-Khatib.

“The Israelis want the holy place under the authority of their Ministry for Antiquities". In his view, the situation is "explosive" and could lead to "a religious war", whereas "we want an open and peaceful Jerusalem". Unfortunately, as “the number of Jewish extremists grows, so will be the number of young Muslims ready to defend al-Aqsa by every means, including [the] sacrifice” of their life.

According to the director, in the last month alone, 56 Waqf members have been questioned by the Israeli police for different reasons. A dozen of them have been banned from the holy site, for various periods of time, up to a maximum of six months, which can be renewed over time.

This comes on top of renewed clashes and violence between Jews and Muslims for control of the site. For both sides, the area touches a raw nerve.

Many Palestinians fear – not without reason – that the status quo is being undermined, given the ongoing incursions by Jewish extremists who call for the destruction of the mosque to make room for a Jewish temple.

Some of the Waqf employees arrested by the Israeli police had taken part in the (forced) reopening of the Golden Gate last February, which had been closed off in 2003.

Others put up opposition to some Messianic Jewish groups who had tried to enter the mosque compound to pray under police escort. The latter is banned under the existing status quo, and is more than a mere provocation for Muslims.

In fact, the number of such visitors, who come as tourists, is constantly rising. According to the Waqf, some 30,000 made the visit in 2018, whilst previously, for decades, no Jew set foot on Temple Mount, expressly forbidden by rabbis.

Things began to change in the past ten years, following the rise of extremist (Jewish) movements – backed quite openly by the Netanyahu government – mixing messianic vision, architecture and politics with the intended goal of building a third Jewish temple.

According to Ofer Zalzberg, from International Crisis Group, the number of arrests among Waqf staff jumped in mid-2016, following the appointment of a new police chief for the Jerusalem District.

More importantly, among Israeli political leaders there is growing support in favour of taking over the Temple Mount. As Israel’s Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said recently, “hopefully soon, we [Jews] will pray in the Temple Mount, our sacred place”.

In light of the situation, Jordanian authorities in Amman have continued to assert their role as custodian of Christian and Muslim holy places in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Jordan has also insisted on the importance of a two-state solution to solve the conflict and settle the Palestinian question. This excludes any concessions to the United States (and their so-called "peace plan" by Kushner); that would mean crossing a "red line".

At the same time though, more and more mixed signals are coming from the United States. In May 2018 the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a supporter of Jewish settlements, was pictured presenting an aerial view of Jerusalem with a third temple in lieu of Dome of the Rock.

Despite official denials, this was much more than a simple faux pas or misunderstanding.

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