The Israeli government is allowing Jews to conduct prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem – also known to Jews as the Temple Mount – in a move that risks shifting the site’s status quo, The New York Times reported.
In a story published on Tuesday, the Times said Rabbi Yehudah Glick made “little effort to hide his prayers” and was even livestreaming them.
The area is in Jerusalem’s walled Old City and part of the territory Israel captured in a 1967 Middle East war. Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1980 in a step that was never recognised by the international community.
Since 1967, Jordan and Israel agreed that the Waqf, or the Islamic trust, would have control over matters inside the compound, while Israel would control external security. Non-Muslims would be allowed onto the site during visiting hours, but would not be allowed to pray there.
According to the Times, Glick – a US-born, right-wing former lawmaker – has been leading efforts to change the status quo for decades, and said he characterises his effort as a matter of “religious freedom”.
Other rising movements, such as the Temple Mount Faithful and the Temple Institute, have also challenged the Israeli government’s ban on allowing Jews to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
The formal arrangement agreed on by Jordan and Israel is in place is to avoid conflict at the flashpoint site.
But Israeli forces routinely allow groups, some in the hundreds, of Jewish settlers who live in occupied Palestinian territories to descend on the Al-Aqsa compound under police and army protection, stirring Palestinian fears of an Israeli takeover.
In 2000, Israeli politician Ariel Sharon entered the holy site accompanied by some 1,000 Israeli police. His entrance to the compound unleashed the second Intifada, in which more than 3,000 Palestinians and some 1,000 Israelis were killed.
In 2017, the Israeli government installed metal detectors at the site’s gates, which led to major confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces.
And in May, Israeli troops raided the al-Aqsa Mosque several times, with subsequent escalations leading to an 11-day Israeli assault on the besieged Gaza Strip.
‘No longer stop them’
According to Glick, the policy started to change under the tenure of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who led far-right parties and was a staunch ally of former US President Donald Trump.
“Glick said that the police began to allow him and his allies to pray on the mount more openly five years ago,” the Times’ report said.
The number has “quietly increased”, it added, though the policy was never widely publicised to avoid a backlash.
Despite the arrangement in place, in reality, “dozens of Jews now openly pray every day in a secluded part of the eastern flank of the site, and their Israeli police escorts no longer attempt to stop them”, reported the Times.
Israel already restricts Palestinian entry into the compound through several methods, including the separation wall, built in the early 2000s, which restricts the entry of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank into Israel.
Of the approximately three million Palestinians in the West Bank, only those over a certain age are allowed access to Jerusalem on Fridays, while others must apply for a hard-to-obtain permit from Israeli authorities.
The restrictions already cause serious congestion and tension at checkpoints between the West Bank and Jerusalem, where tens of thousands must pass through security checks to enter the mosque and pray.