For over 14 centuries a status quo has been maintained according to which the Al-Aqsa compound is acknowledged as an Islamic Waqf reserved for Muslim prayers. The holy site has however witnessed numerous political crises and violent clashes throughout the years, with many external attempts to subjugate and even destroy buildings at the site.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, and the subsequent Israeli Occupation of Jerusalem, the mosque’s sanctity and safety have been increasingly imperilled. In 1969, an Australian Christian Zionist, Dennis Rohan, even set Al-Aqsa (Al-Qibli) Mosque on fire, completely destroying large parts of it, including its Ayoubi-era pulpit.
Historically the entire holy compound is a Muslim Waqf and Jewish law prohibits Jews from entering it, but “visits” by Jewish extremists under armed Israeli guard (while Palestinians are denied access) have escalated over the last decade and undeniably added a religious dimension to what seemed a predominantly political conflict. In recent years, particularly since 2014, the status quo at the Al-Aqsa compound appears to be eroding under attempts by the Israeli establishment and Jewish forces determined to strengthen their hold over the holy compound at the expense of Muslim rights.
Masjid al Aqsa today remains under the administration of the Jordanian/Palestinian-led Islamic Waqf. However, by consequence of the illegal Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the mosque currently also finds itself under Israeli subjugation with entrance to the site and its visitation and maintenance regulated by Israeli policemen.
This section chronicles the steady escalation of assaults on Masjid al Aqsa, and explains why for many Palestinians Masjid al Aqsa is considered to be in grave danger.
The Ottoman status quo arrangement was introduced in a Firman (an administrative order or decree issued by an Ottoman Turkish Sultan) in 1852. It froze claims of possession by religious communities
in the Holy Places of Christendom and forbade any construction or alterations to holy places. The introduction of the arrangement represented a futile attempt by Ottoman Sultan Abdul Majid to
avoid a war between the Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches over space and control of some areas in the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem and the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. Article 62 of the Treaty of Berlin (1878) however subsequently proclaimed the 1852 decree to be inviolable and declared it the ‘Status Quo of the Holy Places,’ extending it to other, non-Christian holy sites. The successive governments of Palestine, the British Mandate, Jordan, and the Israeli military occupation maintained the regulations set forth by the status quo arrangement of 1852.
The British Mandate authorities (1920-47) included the Al- Buraq Wall (Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem and Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem in the status quo arrangement. In September 1928 a group of Jews set up chairs to separate men and women performing Yom Kippur prayers at the Al-Buraq Wall, triggering the first major violation of the arrangement and one of the first periods of serious unrest in the city.
A White Paper submitted to the British government in November 1928 reiterated the rights and ownership of Muslims to the Wall, stating: “The Wall is also part of the Haram Ash-Sharif; as such, it is holy to Muslims. Moreover, it is legally the absolute property of the Muslim community, and the strip of pavement facing it is Waqf property, as is shown by documents preserved by the Guardian of the Waqf.”
Zionists could not present any documentary evidence of Jewish claims to the Wall. The following year, a dispute over prayer arrangements at Al-Buraq Wall escalated and in August 1929, violent demonstrations resulted in the deaths of dozens of Jews and Muslims and the injuring of hundreds more.
The conclusions of the subsequent British Inquiry Commission presented in December 1930 confirmed that although Jews may have free access to the Wall for prayers, “the ownership of the Wall, as well as the possession of it and of those parts of its surroundings belong to the Muslims and that the Wall itself, as an integral part of Al-Haram Ash- Sharif area, is Muslim property”.
Despite this, the British authorities restricted public access to the Wall during Jewish prayers and allowed some worship accessories, resulting in it gradually turning into a “Jewish site” – for many (Palestinian) Muslims a precedent of a growing Jewish presence threatening their holy site.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), issued a rabbinic decree forbidding Jewish entry and visits inside the Haram Ash-Sharif compound as the ritually impure may step on, and thereby desecrate, the Holy of Holies – a room housing the Ark of the Covenant where only the high priest may enter on Yom Kippur.
Following the passing of UN Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine in 1947, hostilities erupted in Jerusalem and access to the Al-Buraq/Western Wall was not possible. The Old City, together with the Al-Aqsa compound, then came under Jordanian rule until the 1967 June War.
Although Article VIII of the April 1949 Armistice Agreement between Jordan and Israel provided for arrangements to be made with regard to “free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives,” including facilitating access for Israelis to the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus and for Christians from Israel to cross Mandelbaum Gate for Christmas and Easter celebrations, Jewish access to the Al-Buraq/Western Wall remained off limits to Israelis during this period.
While governing the Old City, the Jordanian Kingdom engaged in numerous renovation and restoration projects of its sacred sites (inter alia coating the dome of the Dome of the Rock with gold-colored sheets and its walls with marble slabs in the 1960s) and appointed custodians for the holy places.
After the capture and occupation of East Jerusalem during the 1967 War, Israeli commander Mordechai Gur made the famous declaration: “Har HaBayit BeYadeinu” (“The Temple Mount is in our hands”), reawakening the hope of rebuilding the “Third Temple”.
However, then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan understood the need for restraint due to the religious and political consequences of Jewish control of the holy site and Dayan ordered the Israeli flag to be taken down from the Dome of the Rock. This political reasoning was matched by a halakhic message broadcast by the Chief Rabbis of Israel – Isser Yehuda Unterman and Yitzhak Nissim – warning that Jews were not permitted to enter the holy site. This was reiterated a few days later by the Chief Rabbinate, which ordered the placement of signs to this effect at the gates leading to the Haram Ash-Sharif. From a theological point of view, the reasoning was that Jews might accidentally step on – and thereby desecrate due to their impurity – the place where the Holy of Holies once stood, which would only be known with the advent of the red heifer (the ashes of which are necessary to fulfil the ritual requirement of cleansing).
Ten days after the war, Moshe Dayan met with the directors of the Islamic Waqf and agreed to respect the status quo, accepting their day-to-day administration of the Haram Ash-Sharif that allowed Jews and other non-Muslims to visit it (but not to pray!). Dayan however proclaimed full authority over the Western/Al-Buraq Wall and plaza, the expansion of which required the destruction of 135 Palestinian homes and two mosques in the adjacent Mughrabi quarter, rendering over 600 people homeless.
Yet, even at that period, there were other groups with their own views. On 15 August 1967, the Israeli army chaplain Rabbi Shlomo Goren (who later became the Chief Rabbi of Israel) led a group of 50 Jews onto Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in a show of Israeli superiority and control. They fought off Palestinian guards and Israeli police to hold a Jewish prayer service. This provocation was sharply criticized by the secular authorities and the Israeli Defense Ministry, which were anxious to avoid changes to the status quo as agreed with the Islamic Waqf. However, arrangements regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound did not include the Al-Buraq/Western Wall, which had been Israel unilaterally registered as its property by 1984.
Since it seized control of the Old City in 1967, Israel has vowed to maintain the status quo on the holy site; this basically forbids non-Muslim visitors to pray there. The 1967 rabbinical ban on entering any part of the “Temple Mount” has repeatedly been confirmed, most recently: in January 2005 by leading rabbis, in 2013 by the Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, and in November 2014 by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who called non-compliance with the ban a “religious crime”.
Notwithstanding, on 28 September 2000 Likud opposition leader Ariel Sharon made a provocative “visit” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, under maximum security and with thousands of forces deployed in and around the Old City to prevent any (anticipated) clashes with Palestinians, which nevertheless broke out and triggered the second or “Al-Aqsa Intifada”. Recent events also suggest that Israel’s understanding of the status quo is somewhat flexible, and may indeed be an obfuscated arrangement that gives cover to more sinister designs.
Incidents in which Israel has restricted access to the compound for Muslims while nationalistic and religious Jews have increased their politically motivated visits, have provoked suspicions and fears about Israeli intentions. The Jewish extremists who complain about limited access to the site tend to ignore that the very same is true for the majority of Muslim Palestinians.
Although the majority of Jews do not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in compliance with the strict ban issued by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, a growing number of rabbis encourage visits to specific parts of the holy site deemed to be “safe”. There are also voices from within the Israeli government demanding a stronger Jewish presence on the site – from proposals to allocate ritual space and prayer times for Jews (similar to the control imposed by Israel at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron), to calls for equal prayer rights.
Increasingly frequent visits by Jewish extremists to the Al-Aqsa compound have been taking place, backed by widespread institutional and governmental support, including from within the Knesset and the security services. Calls by religious nationalists to change the status quo appear to have moved from the political fringe to the mainstream. Such ideas are no longer articulated merely within dubious circles of the religious right, but are openly discussed in the media.
This situation, coupled with the reality that Israel de facto occupies and fully controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound with its forces who guard all the gates, decide who enters and who is barred, has led to unprecedented tensions in the holy city.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is open for worship 24 hours, but for non-Muslim visitors (including Jews) visiting hours are restricted to 7:30–11 a.m. and 12–1:30 p.m., with the exception of Fridays, and entry for non-Muslims is only via the Mughrabi (Dung) Gate.
Israel systematically violates the commitment to freedom of worship it claims to have endowed on Palestinians with regard to Al Aqsa. For example, in 1993 it imposed a closure on Jerusalem, requiring all Palestinians without a Jerusalem ID to apply for a permit (a lengthy and arbitrary process) to visit the city for whatever purpose, including worship. This general closure continues to been forced by multiple Israeli-controlled checkpoints that effectively isolate the city from the rest of the West Bank, and is applied more strictly any time an incident occurs or during Jewish holidays.
As a result, millions of Palestinians have never ever visited Jerusalem or prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque in violation of their religious, cultural, political, and citizenship rights. The restrictions on Al-Aqsa Mosque are not only imposed on Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, but also on Jerusalemite Palestinians, especially when attempting to attend Friday noon prayers, forcing them to pray in the streets instead. Restrictions are routinely imposed on age and gender, along with the confiscation of ID cards, summoning worshippers to the police, or banning them from approaching the holy compound (or even the city).
Israeli excavations beneath and around Al-Aqsa Mosque compound began immediately after the 1967 occupation to search for “Jewish roots”. The often unauthorized tunneling and digging provoked Muslim protests and also damaged several adjacent properties – including the building housing the Islamic Waqf Council and the its administrative offices, Ribat Al-Kurd, the historic Uthmani and Al-Tankazi Schools, and many Palestinian homes.
Despite unquestionable damage and threats of collapse to the structures on the sanctuary, offers of funding by Arab countries for restoration works were blocked by Israel.
The controversial opening of the large Western Wall Tunnel beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1996 sparked bloody clashes with Palestinians and protests around the Islamic world, but also exposed Israeli excavations openly and introduced the issue into the Israeli mainstream.
In 2007 an Israeli plan to renovate the historic Mughrabi ramp, a gate pathway which serves as the main access point to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for non-Muslims, including Jews, also caused concern. The move was perceived as a flagrant Israeli violation of Islamic Waqf property and Al-Aqsa Mosque and as an attempt to expand the prayer plaza in the front of the the adjacent Western Wall.
Nevertheless, Israeli plans for the ramp went ahead. In February 2015, the Islamic Waqf Council warned that the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out large scale excavations to build its
own facilities under the foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque, causing imminent threats to the holy
site. Israeli plans include a synagogue, a center known as “Generations Convoy”, a miniature city, and a tunnel linking the excavations with the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. Many observers see Israeli excavation activities as a cover to grab more land and further weaken the possibility of a two-state solution. The British government in 2015 also expressed concern that cooperation between the Elad settler group and the Israel Antiquities Authority “under the guise of tourism and protection of Jewish history” will “increase tension around the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif and further complicate future attempts to negotiate a political resolution on the city.”
Changes in the political landscape and within Israeli society, combined with a growing number of rabbis offering different interpretations of what is permitted or not with regard to visiting and praying at the Al- Aqsa Mosque compound/”Temple Mount,” have transformed what was a fringe opinion on Jewish presence on Al-Aqsa compound into a mainstream view. Every religious Jew prays for the establishment of the Third Temple on the holy esplanade as a central concept of traditional Judaism and many of the Judaic holy scriptures lend support to this concept.
One can differentiate three schools of thought on the establishment of the Temple within Judaism today:
- The Ultra-Orthodox belief is that Jews should pray for the advent of the temple, which will eventually descend from heaven to the right location, but in the meantime Jews should avoid entering the holy site in case of possible desecration.
- The national-religious camp would like to see Israeli sovereignty over the site while praying for the ‘Temple’s’ advent as a means to foreclose the possibility of Israel relinquishing it during talks with the Palestinians.
- A third group – so-called temple activists – advocate that Jews should build the ‘Temple’themselves to prepare for a pious life and urge Jews to both visit and pray at the site.
Many Israeli “visitors” to the holy site are religious extremists and fanatical settlers who call openly for a takeover of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, and even the replacement of its current buildings with a Jewish temple. The very real danger posed by these “visitors” is exposed not only in their rhetoric and mere presence at the holy site, but also in videos and images in which the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock is replaced by a reconstructed temple. They regularly hold organised break-ins at the site, taunting and provoking Palestinian worshippers. Their websites and media platforms are also awash with material detailing moves underway to rebuild the temple.
Even the Israeli Foreign Ministry produced such an inflammatory film in 2013. In the same year a Knesset candidate from the Jewish Home party called for the Dome of the Rock Mosque to be blown up to build the “Jewish temple” in its place.
Many Jewish fundamentalists see their activism as a duty to push the messianic project back on track in the face of Israeli government negotiations and potential territorial compromises with the Palestinians. Most of the calls for Jewish prayers on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound (and the reconstruction of the temple in place of the mosque) come from nationalist religious organizations whose members have been described as a few “militants considered to be from the surreal messianic margins of society.”
Yet some have reached the government, mainly as members in the Knesset. Government authorities assist and encourage the activities of these movements by registering them as associations, allowing them to infiltrate public schools and yeshivas, and providing security and protection to them.
Despite the overt agenda of the groups to shape public opinion on the construction of the “Third Temple” and to push for new laws on the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, state bodies only intervene to curb activities when riots or threats to public order arise. Furthermore, Temple Mount movements receive direct state funding (via the Ministries of Education and Culture) averaging some $108,000 per year
Temple Mount Faithful: Established (and still headed) by Gershon Salomon in 1967, and registered as an association since 1982. Stated goal is “Liberating the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation”, moving/ rebuilding the Dome of the Rock and Al- Aqsa Mosque in Mecca, and constructing the “Third Temple.”
On his website, Salomon states, “The rebuilding of the Temple is a key event in the life of Israel which will complete the Zionist revolution on the Temple Mount..We must remove the foreigners[Muslims] and their terrible abomination[buildings in al Aqsa sanctuary] from the hill of God to purify the place”
Every year the movement applies to the police for permission to pray on Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on holidays and regular occasions (e.g., Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukka, Pessach, Shavuot, Independence Day, Jerusalem Day and Tisha B’Av). On these occasions members hold ceremonies, including laying the cornerstone for the Temple, pouring water at the Spring of Gihon, and conducting a Jewish wedding at the Mughrabi Gate. In 1990, its planned cornerstone laying ceremony at the compound led to mass riots which left 17 Palestinians killed and hundreds more injured.
The group is supported by right-wing Christian evangelicals and Christian Zionists. Its motivation is more nationalist-political than religious, which is why religious members split from it in the early 1990 to establish the Movement for Temple Renewal.
The Temple Institute: Established in 1984 by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, who still serves as chairman, and politically aligned to far-right parties. The Temple Institute pursues the primary goal “to fulfill the positive precept from the Torah: ‘Then have them make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell among.’”
It runs various yeshivas, a museum, a publishing house, tours, and also a project to produce and recreate objects for use in the Jewish Temple. These objects include the reconstruction of all 93 sacred vessels required for halachic resumption of sacrificial rites, the creation of a mobile “Second Temple” model, the building of an altar, sewing garments for priests, and erecting a golden menorah (in 1999) in the Jewish Quarter overlooking Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Members regularly visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to pray and launched the annual ‘International Temple Mount Awareness Day’ in March 2010. The Institute, whose motivation is primarily halachic, receives financial support from state bodies.
El Har Hamor: Founded by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yossi Pelei. Registered as an association in 1988 with the aim “To initiate and encourage any activity that strengthens the deep Jewish connection to the Temple Mount according to Halacha.”
The movement, whose motivation is halachic and messianic, recruits young settlers and organizes a monthly event (“circling of the gates”) in which participants surround the compound praying, singing and dancing at each of its gates. For this police-approved “procession” to take place, main streets and shops in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter are closed off. In 2000, it created a militia-like “Temple Guard” to guard the site once the “Temple” is built. The group is also connected with “price tag” acts of vandalism against Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) religious institutions.
The Movement for Temple Renewal (Hatnua Lekhinun Hamikdash): Founded by Yosef Elboim, Yoel Lerner and others (as an offshoot of the Temple Mount Faithful, which they considered not to be religious enough) and registered as an association in 1991.Its activists come mainly from the Haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem and are headed by lawyer Baruch Bar Yosef. Intends to establish a state of Halacha in the area of the Biblical Land of Israel and “to build the Temple and renew worship as in early days.”
Based on this, it calls on every Jew to take an active part in promoting such a revival. Organizes periodic ascents of Al-Aqsa compound and runs a monthly paper, Yibaneh Hamikdash, which regularly documents hundreds of people who have made the ascent. It also hosts an annual “Temple Conference.”
In 1996, it succeeded in having the Committee of Yesha Rabbis of Gush Emunim overturn the ruling that it was forbidden to enter the Temple Mount.
A coalition of Israeli groups seeking the speedy re-establishment of the ‘Temple’ in 2000 formed an umbrella organisation called The United Association of Movements for the Holy Temple(UAMHT), headed by Hillel Weiss, an extremist professor at Bar-Ilan University.
The concept ‘blowing-up’ structures at Masjid al Aqsa and replacing them with a Jewish Temple, whilst previously a fringe idea, is now also gaining more prominence. The idea has also caught on amongst Christian Zionists. A survey published after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1997 showed that 93% of a sample of 1500 Israelis considered Masjid al Aqsa(the ‘Temple Mount’) a very important part of Jerusalem. 84% said it was important to them to be able to pray there and 70% were adamant that control of the site should not be in the hands of Muslims.
Moshe Feiglin, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, who regularly takes part in demonstrations seeking the physical re-establishment of the Temple in place of Masjid al Aqsa is reported as saying, “Everything will stand or fall on this issue. If you give up the Temple Mount of your free will, you give up your identity – you commit spiritual suicide. There’s a large majority behind us on this issue that doesn’t want to disconnect from the dream of generations. Unfortunately, the majority is being overcome by a small minority that don’t want to be Jews”.
Many in the Temple Movement openly fundraise for their cause in Israel, the USA and Europe. The stated aim for some of the fundraising is manufacturing and purchasing utensils to be housed in the ‘Temple’. Some campaigns actually involve an accumulation of gold for this purpose.
“We are saving the donation of gold, silver and other jewellery for the Temple. This will be used when the construction of the Temple begins. Much gold and silver will be required for all parts of the Temple,” says one of the affiliated movements.
In 1998, Ha’aretz reported that an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect was searching for parents willing to hand over newborn sons, to be raised in isolation in preparation for the rebuilding of the Temple.
“The idea is to raise a child, who, from the moment of birth, will not touch the deas and will not even be in hospital where the dead are found”. Once the boys reach 13, they will be able to slaughter and burn a ‘sacred red heifer’ and sprinkle its ashes on people in a ‘purification’ ritual.
The red heifers have been genetically developed by supportive Christian Zionists in the USA. Clyde Lott of Canaan Land Restoration mentions having shipped planeloads of red cattle – 140 at a time – since 1998.
American Christian Zionists with messianic zeal are leading the way in visiting Israel as well as providing the platform and support for some of the Temple movements to flourish. Many recognise the incendiary power of their actions, but from their viewpoint consider it as a necessary step to trigger events key to the End Times, such as the arrival of the Messiah and establishment of Eretz Israel(Greater Israel). If war is a consequence, they feel assured in attaining salvation, thereby escaping its effects.
US-born settler and face of the Temple Movement Yehuda Glick in 2016 took up office as a member of the Knesset. Analysts see Glick’s entrance to the parliament as a major step forward for the advancement of the Temple cause.
The political background to this is an Israeli old guard growing mostly obsolete, providing for the settler movement to position itself as the future, taking over key positions in the government, the military, police and Shin Bet, and winning public support through the Temple Movement. “Religious Zionism is on its way to taking control of the State of Israel,” former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin suggested in 2015.
As feeble as the gestures were, religious Zionists have been wary and livid at any prospect of a land settlement with the Palestinians, however inconsequential. The doctrine which they champion, as coinciding with what has been mentioned of Temple movements above, holds that Jewish redemption – the arrival of the king messiah – will be achieved through conquering and settling Eretz Yisrael. Territorial withdrawal is perceived by Religious Zionists to be a reversal of the unfolding of messianic events they believe to be happening before their eyes.
Thus the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority, was perceived by Religious Zionists as a rollback in Jewish sovereignty, raising doubts about the sanctity of the State of Israel and its willingness to carry out the messianic plan.
Religious Zionism has been seeking to assert its ideals more forthrightly since Israel’s withdrawal from the Egyptian Sinai and the evacuation of the settlement of Yamit in 1982. Yisrael Ariel, then Chief Rabbi of Yamit and follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane, went on to become a leading figure in the Temple Movement. Yehuda Etzion, a member of the militant Jewish Underground in the 1980s and prominent figure in today’s Temple Movement, attempted to blow up Dome of the Rock in order to halt the evacuation of Sinai.
When Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, notwithstanding that he still maintained the illegal occupation, the extreme bloc were again incensed leading to a further radicalization in the camp and empowerment of the most extreme among them.
Yehuda Glick, then working as a spokesman in the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, quit in protest of the withdrawal and began his rise from settler activist to member of parliament and face of the Temple Movement.
The US-born Glick lives in the occupied West Bank settlement of Otniel.
After leaving his position in the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, Glick took a greater leading role in the Temple Movement, becoming the executive director of the Temple Institute. Founded in 1984 by Yisrael Ariel, the Temple Institute is a state-funded organization that takes a multi-faceted approach to achieve its goal of building a third Jewish temple on what Muslims call Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and Jews called Har Habayit (Temple Mount). Ariel is a senior figure in the Temple Movement and is a head of the “Nascent Sanhedrin”, a halachic (Jewish law) court council established by messianic settlers who seek to reinstate the biblical legal system in the prospective kingdom of God.
After leaving the Temple Institute, Glick founded a series of organizations that promote and popularize the Temple Movement through liberal discourse, including the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation in 2009, and The Liba Initiative for Jewish Freedom on the Temple Mount, and Human Rights on Temple Mount.
Glick’s ascendance illustrated how some of the most esoteric and extreme elements of the Religious Zionist movement achieved political prominence as that movement displaced the Revisionist Zionists from power in much the same way the revisionists took control from the founding Labor Zionists in the 1970s.
As part of a greater strategy to consolidate political power, this Religious Zionist movement aimed to take over the political structure, beginning with the ruling Likud party.
Abandoned by Benjamin Netanyahu, who as a member of the opposition rode a wave of anti-Oslo sentiment to become prime minister for the first time in 1996, Moshe Feiglin, a Glick ally, led an anti-Oslo civil disobedience campaign of the Zo Artzeinu (This is Our Land) in the 1990s. 100,000 Israelis staged sit-ins at highways and intersections, but failed to derail the Oslo Accords.
In response, Feiglin, along with Motti Karpel and Shmuel Sackett, devised a new strategy to co-opt the Israeli political system, beginning with the ruling Likud party.
With Feiglin as its face, the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) movement was established in 1995, coincidentally the same evening that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Manhigut Yehudit’s lists its political goals on its website and its platform calls to “Nullify the Oslo Accords”, “Annex Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank]”, and “Restore Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount.” The section on the Temple Mount details the effects Manhigut Yehudit anticipates, including guaranteeing the Jewish right to pray the Temple Mount, “strengthening Israel’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world”, and implementing god’s peace plan. “The Temple Mount is the headquarters for the Jewish mission of Tikun Olam [repairing the world], to bring peace and harmony to the world.”
In 2000, Manhigut Yehudit joined the Likud party and over the years, focused on recruitment of settlers to register as Likud members in order to promote their representatives within the Likud primaries and influence the Likud Central Committee, which decides Likud party policy. Less than a decade after its inception, Manhigut Yehudit somewhat achieved this goal, establishing itself as the largest faction in the Likud Central Committee.
In the 2015 election cycle, Moshe Feiglin performed poorly and subsequently left the Likud party to found the Zehut (Identity) party. Manhigut Yehudit’s leaders did not take top political positions within the party, but the new generation of the Likud members in parliament echo the political platform that Feiglin advocated for, with Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount becoming a key issue. Figures who advocate for this include Culture Minister Miri Regev, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, among others.
Glick spearheaded a campaign to gain public support for the Temple Movement’s apocalyptic goals by using the language of liberalism – what he calls “prayer rights.”
But to informed observers, “prayer rights” is a red herring.
In fact, if the Temple Movement accomplishes its goal of building a temple, prayer would be abolished, as it was created as a substitute for ritual sacrifice that can only take place in a temple. As Israeli political blogger Yossi Gurvitz explains, “Prayer is a pale imitation of the spiritual experience you will feel once we again slaughter sheep and spread their blood and guts on the floor, for the glory of God. Originally – and by originally I mean before the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD – the main form of Jewish observance was sacrifice.”
Moreover, Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount has been forbidden by halacha and major rabbinical authorities since the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD, and is punishable by a divinely-imposed death penalty. But the Temple Movement’s active approach theologically diverges from Orthodox Judaism which says that humans have no agency in the matter.
While Orthodox Jews vehemently object to Glick’s prayer rights campaign, most secular Zionists are unfamiliar with Jewish theology, leaving them incapable of rebutting the liberal rhetoric claiming equal worship rights for Jews on the Temple Mount. In fact, the campaign, understood as an issue of Jewish democracy – a euphemism for Jewish sovereignty – has made the Temple Movement increasingly popular among secular Israelis.
Glick regularly leads tour groups on the Haram al-Sharif, instructing them to pray in defiance of the status quo. He was banned from visiting the site from 2011 until 2013 after he was shown in a Channel 10 report praying. In April, 2013 Glick started a hunger strike in protest. Glick sued the state, and in March, 2015, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court sharply criticized the police and ordered the state to compensate Glick with 500,00 NIS ($130,000), though the compensation order was later overturned.
“Instead of protecting us from violent Islamic elements,” Glick said, “the police consciously added insult to injury by treating Jews who are law-abiding victims of violence as if they were criminals. I am hopeful that this ruling will be a warning sign to the legal authorities to ensure justice and not make corrupt use of their power.”
One of Glick’s slogans is “Stop apartheid against Jews on the Temple Mount”. But this flips reality on its head – Israel has long infringed upon freedom of worship to Muslims by denying and restricting access. Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are rarely, if ever, permitted to visit the Haram al-Sharif, while Muslims from around the world are discriminated against and often denied from entering Israeli-controlled borders. Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jerusalemite Palestinians are subject to access restrictions based on age and gender, and activists who aim to defend the Haram al-Sharif in the face of the Israeli de-facto change of status quo face political persecution and criminalization.
Thus placing the Temple Movement into a rights-based discourse allowed Israeli politicians to further the agenda by presenting it as an issue of national sovereignty and equal rights. “This is turning from a religious issue to a national issue of prime importance,” then Religious Services Minister and current Education Minister Naftali Bennett told Army Radio in June 2014. “The goals are increased Israeli activity and presence at Temple Mount, in a gradual manner.”
Likud member of parliament, now Culture Minister Miri Regev and Labor Party’s member of parliament Hilik Bar tabled a bill calling for a change in the status quo, allowing Jewish prayer rights at Haram al-Sharif. Bar said that he and the Labor party “are part of the Zionist Center-Left that sees our holy sites as the basis of our existence and the essence of our history.”
While Glick is a self-described “peace activist” – no small irony given that he quit his position in protest of the “peace process” – his actions and rhetoric demonstrate a clear desire to spark violence, something Israeli authorities are very aware of. In 2008, then Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said “…this [Jewish prayer] will serve as a provocation, resulting in disorder, with a near certain likelihood of subsequent bloodshed.”
According to Israeli police, Glick incited violence in 2012. Then Jerusalem police commander Nissan Shaham said riots were triggered by incitement published on a website called “Temple Mount is Ours,” which police say Glick and fellow Temple Movement member Nehemia Elboim operate, though Glick denied. On February 14, 2012, the website published a poster with the official Likud party logo that read:
“Members of the central committee and thousands of members, led by Rabbi Moshe Feiglin, chairman of the Likud Leadership, are invited to ascend Temple Mount, to thank and praise god, and to declare that healthy leadership begins with full control of Temple Mount, purifying the place from the enemies of Israel, stealers of land, and building the temple on the ruins of the mosques, with no fear”
After Palestinian media highlighted the incitement posted, protests were sparked at al-Aqsa on the same day. This incident led to police describing Glick as, “The most dangerous man in the Middle East.”
Glick also collaborates with more outspoken members of the Temple Movement who openly incite to destroy al-Aqsa mosque and ethnically cleanse Eretz Yisrael of Palestinians and other non-Jews, and establish the Jewish kingdom of god.
In October 2014, an assassination attempt on Glick was carried out following a Temple Movement conference called “Israel Returns to the Mount”. Israeli forces killed suspected shooter Mutaz Hijazi in an apparent extrajudicial execution at his home the following morning. Glick was severely wounded and hospitalized but survived and has made a full recovery, only fueling his messianic fervor.
In an interview published in Haaretz, Glick accused the police of slandering his character, calling it a “second assassination.”
The escalation of violence during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in September, 2014 was preceded by Glick lobbying new Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a Glick ally and Likud member of parliament who was promoted by Manhigut Yehudit, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to outlaw the Murabitat and Murabitin, groups of Palestinian worshippers who heckle settlers touring Haram al-Sharif with calls of “Allahu Akbar” (god is great). Two weeks after Defense Minister Ya’alon outlawed the Muslim groups at the request of Erdan, Israeli forces, in an unprecedented attack, raided the al-Qibli mosque at the Haram al-Sharif for three consecutive days.
As violence continued to escalate in October, 2014 then Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon acknowledged that the Temple Movement had incited it, while defending their “right” to do so. “We can’t ignore the fact that some of the events [in Jerusalem] are being exploited for what ministers and members of parliament did when they went up to Temple Mount,” he told Israel’s Channel 10.
“It is certainly within our right to go up to Temple Mount, but there is a very sensitive status quo in play here that has been agreed upon with Jordan, and we need to preserve it. The fact that the Palestinians exploit this and turn it into a provocation and incitement is true, but we don’t need to ignite this.”
With Glick and other advocates of the Temple Movement gaining ascendancy in Israeli lawmaking circles, added to the general swing to the far right in the Zionist State, Israel has the recipe to escalate violence to unprecedented levels and Masjid al Aqsa is increasingly in the crosshairs.
Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is both a religious and a national symbol for Palestinians, marking it out as a target for Israeli/Jewish attacks and provocations and the scene of frequent clashes.
For Palestinians, the gradual weakening of the prohibition against Jews entering the holy site and the growing vocalization from within the Israeli government advocating Jewish presence and prayers at the compound, clearly indicate further land grabs – an extension of the settlement construction taking place in the West Bank.
As one recent analysis put it: “In the Holy Land, prayer is not just an act of personal devotion: it implies ownership.” Palestinians see the wider picture aimed at erasing their presence and heritage in the city – already evident in the neglect of Palestinian neighborhoods and historical narrative; the “Hebrewization” of Arab street names; destruction of homes; rampant settlement expansion and settler takeovers of buildings; the military presence; routine prevention of worshippers from entering the mosque due to bans and access restrictions; and harassment from Israeli authorities, including tax and arrest raids and imposition of fines, and ID card confiscations. During the period of the Israeli war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, Palestinians were alarmed by the increasing number of police-escorted visits to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound by Jews in the face of harsh condemnation from the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf Council and the Jordanian custodianship. These visits were seen as a strategic government-backed step to breach the status quo and gradually impose the settler and far-right agenda, pre-empting a potential independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
A draft Israeli law that would change the status quo and allow Jews to pray at the holy site60 confirms Palestinian fears that the ultimate goal is for Jews to “share” the compound by force in the same way imposed at the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Add to this the fact that all gates to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound are controlled by Israeli guards and Jews who assault Muslim worshippers, attempt to perform religious rituals at the site, or carry out illegal digs under or next to it, are protected by Israeli forces and go unpunished.
On 5 November 2014, Israeli forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and entered the building of Al-Aqsa Mosque (Masjid Al-Qibli) itself, fully armed and wearing their shoes. They assaulted worshippers, fired tear gas and stun grenades and burned some of its carpets – desecrating the holy site in an unprecedented manner and causing a huge outcry. Jordan recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and threatened to reevaluate its relations and peace treaty with Israel, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to issue immediate assurances that he would respect and maintain the status quo at the holy site.
According to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in December 2014, 87% of Palestinians believe that Al-Aqsa Mosque is in grave danger; 56% believe that Israel intends to destroy and replace it with a Jewish temple; 21% believe that Israel intends to divide the compound and place a synagogue alongside the mosques; and 9% believe that Israel intends to change the status quo by allowing Jews to pray there. Some 47.8% believe that Israel will succeed in implementing its plans and only 6% believe that Israel is interested in maintaining the status quo without any changes
Despite Israel claiming the Old City as part of its capital following the June 1967 War, the international community – in accordance with international law– view it as occupied Palestinian territory in which Israel, as the occupying power, is responsible for maintaining public order and civil life. Israel has failed to fulfil these requirements by ignoring extremist incitement against Al-Aqsa Mosque and allowing provocative visits to it in direct violation of the Waqf’s administration and Jordanian custodianship.
The international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem as per the 1980 Basic Law on Jerusalem. UN Security Council Resolution 478 (1980) rejected it as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and declared as “null and void” all Israeli “measures and actions […] which have altered or purport to alter the character and the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.”
In 1968, UNESCO strongly condemned Israeli excavations in the Old City and any attempts to alter its “cultural and historical character, particularly with regard to Christian and Islamic religious sites.” During subsequent years UNESCO repeatedly condemned Israel’s non-compliance with its legal provisions, which continued in the wake of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls being added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981 (as proposed by Jordan a year earlier) and named a World Heritage Site in Danger in 1982, and even after Israel’s acceptance of the World Heritage Convention in 1999. Israeli disregard of these legal provisions reiterates the inherent weakness of international law and the lack of effective enforcement. More recently, on 20 April 2015, UNESCO adopted a resolution, submitted by Jordan and Palestine, reaffirming the definition of Al-Aqsa Mosque as the entire sacred complex surrounding it, including Al-Mughrabi Gate, and calling on Israel to cease all excavation work and demolitions within the Old City walls.
Provocative visits and military incursions into the Al-Aqsa compound have become accepted in mainstream Israeli society and those who engage in such acts hold senior positions within the political and religious right. They benefit from close ties with Israeli authorities, while the election of individuals such as Yehuda Glick, Moshe Feiglin and Uri Ariel to the Knesset have “legitimized” the voices routinely calling for a change in the status quo. Once a fringe issue, it is now taking center stage in the political discourse on Jerusalem and features prominently on both Israeli and Palestinian agendas. Threats to the site have intensified in recent months and Muslims around the world and in Palestine believe that this is part of creating conditions for “sharing” of the holy site or building the “Third Temple.” A dangerous cycle is being fuelled in which more Jews demanding their “right” to pray on the compound prompts more Palestinian protectors to vow to “defend Al-Aqsa Mosque”.
Israel’s tightening grip on Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the Palestinian-Arab- Muslim reaction cannot be disconnected from the wider political reality: East Jerusalem is Palestinian land that belongs to the Palestinian people and Israel’s occupation and annexation of it as well as its measures to change the status quo are illegal in international law. As long as these facts continue to be ignored despite international recognition of Palestinian ownership of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and failures to hold Israel responsible for its violations, ominous trends will gain momentum and turn the holy city of Jerusalem into a powder keg.
Israel should beware of the dangers inherent in turning the current political conflict into a religious war. In the words of one observer, any “attempt to re-couple the religious myth with the political-diplomatic sphere,” is dangerous because “it is very difficult to act in a judicious manner out of messianic fervor.” To avert further outbreaks of violence, a responsible Israeli leadership must halt Jewish provocation on the holy compound.
Above all, it is impossible to ignore the elephant in the room: the ongoing belligerent occupation that discriminates against and neglects the entire Palestinian population, and not only in Jerusalem. If the occupation is not brought to an end, the situation on the ground will deteriorate even further and the “city of peace” will remain a ticking bomb.