Today, an Islamic Waqf, or religious committee, manages the Temple Mount, though Israel provides security and upholds decisions made by the waqf about access to the site.
For Jews, visiting the Temple Mount is a very controversial subject- both in terms of religious allowance and because non-Muslim prayer is prohibited at the site. Although freedom of access to the site is enshrined as law, Israel does not allow non-Muslim prayer on the Mount so as not to offend Muslim worshippers. Beyond this, many rabbi's say that since the Jewish Temple's Holy of Holies stood near the center of today's Temple Mount, Jews are religiously forbidden from entering the area.
Arabs can enter the Temple Mount
through one of ten different Muslim-only gates from various sites
in the Old City. Tourists
and Jews are only allowed access to the site through the Mugrabi Gate
which is located just above to the left of the Kotel,
or Western Wall plaza.
Because of the sensitivity of the
Temple Mount, Israelis enforce strict security measures for Jews and
Muslims alike. For instance, during Friday prayers, any Muslim under
the age of 45 is prohibited from ascending the mount; a rule put in
place in response to young demonstrators throwing stones at Jewish
worshipers at the Western Wall. Additionally, no Jewish groups can
pray in the plazas surrounding the mosques or provoke the Muslims.
The Temple Mount sifting project began in 2004, with the goal of unearthing the hidden history of one of the holiest places in the world. Since it's inception over 170,000 tourists and locals have participated in the project, sifting through mounds of rubble and dirt in attempts to find ancient coins and other items. Archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay oversees the excavation, and claims that approximately 50% of the earth removed from the Temple Mount site has revealed insights into the history of Jerusalem. Discoveries have included coins, pottery shards, building fragments, arrowheads, and ancient seals.
In 2005, the bridge leading to the Mugrabi Gate collapsed after a landslide occured on the site following heavy winter storms and two years later, Israel decided to build a temporary, detour bridge to ensure non-Muslim access to the Mount. Israel had also considered renovating the centuries-old bridge, but their decision was widely assailed by Palestinians as an attempt to destroy their historical site. Though this claim was patently false, Israel decided to not go ahead with construction so as not to inflame an already volatile region.
In 2011, the Western Wall Foundation forced the government to close the four-year old temporary bridge leading to the Mugrabi Gate for fear that its instability could lead to its collapsing.
Three police officers were injured after the Temple Mount opened to non-Muslim visitors on October 8, 2014, in clashes between masked Palestinian individuals and the police officers. The masked individuals began throwing rocks, pieces of metal, large cinderblocks and molotov cocktails, and spraying flamable materials at the officers soon after the Mugrabi entrance to the Temple Mount opened. The Mugrabi entrance is the only entrance to the Temple Mount specifically for non-Muslim visitors, located near the Western Wall. As the calendar counted down to Sukkot, more and more Jewish individuals came to visit the holy site, causing increased tensions. According to Israeli police, in advance of the disturbance the masked Palestinians had placed objects to block the police access to areas of the Temple Mount, and poured flamable liquid on objects in the vicinity that they later attempted to set ablaze with their molotov cocktails. After the initial clash, the rioters were chased into the al-Aksa Mosque where they baracaded the doors with large marble slabs, furniture, and wood posts. Bricks, rocks and fireworks were thrown at the officers from inside of the mosque, causing great permanent damage to the interior, and the rioters also sprayed an unidentified flamable substance on the officers which made breathing difficult. Three officers were hit and injured with rocks and fireworks. A fire broke out inside of the mosque, started by a stun grenade thrown in by an Israeli security officer. Five arrests were made and dozens of Palestinians were injured during these clashes. Calm was restored to the Temple Mount later in the day and the site was opened again to the public after remaining closed for a short period of time.
On October 17, 2014, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech in which he stated that "we have to prevent the settlers from entering the Temple Mount by any means. It is our mosque and they have no right to enter and desecrate it".
Yehuda Glick, a prominent Rabbi who worked day and night to restore Jewish rights to visit the Temple Mount, was shot and seriously injured on October 30, 2014. He was leaving a conference about the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount at which he spoke. In the past Glick had been barred from the site, and at one point staged a hunger strike which lasted 12 days to reinstate his priveleges to visit the Temple Mount. Glick is the head of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, an organization that seeks to enlighten Jewish individuals on the significance of the Temple Mount and encourages them to visit the site. Glick often participated in acts forbidden by Israeli police at the Temple Mount including praying and performing Jewish rituals. Muslim individuals frequently reacted angrily to his presence at the Temple Mount. Israeli police shot and killed Moataz Hejazi while attempting to arrest him, whom they believe is the person who shot Glick. They tracked Hejazi to his home and upon arrival were immediately shot at by Hejazi and other individuals inside of the home, after which they returned fire and killed the suspect. Hejazi had spent 11 years in an Israeli prison after having his sentence extended twice for attacking gaurds, being released in 2012. Hejazi was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member who was labelled as a "toublemaker" who "should have been shot 10 years ago" by residents of his neighborhood following the incident. Islamic Jihad released an official statement that read "We praise his martyrdom that came after a life full of Jihad and sacrifice and which responded to the call of holy duty in defending Al-Aksa mosque". In response to the attempted murder of Glick, the Israeli police completely closed the Temple Mount for the first time since Ariel Sharon paid a visit to the holy site in 2000 that sparked the Second Intifada. The site was reopened the following morning after threats and protests from Palestinian individuals, but past restrictions including the barring from the site of anyone under the age of 50 were put in place. This age restriction was removed on November 16, 2014. Glick was released from Shaare Zedek Medical Center on Monday November 24, weak and wheelchair bound but expected to make a full recovery. He thanked the Arab and Israeli doctors who saved his life after he was shot, and described the wounds he sustained as well as the treatment he recieved. Glick stated upon his release that "The terrorist who shot me told me, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m shooting you because you’re desecrating Al-Aksa.’ But the person who shoots another person in the name of Al-Aksa is the one who is desecrating Al-Aksa, and the person who treats another person in the hospital is the one who is honoring Islam. The Muslim doctors and nurses who work in the hospital are the people who honor their religion, not the man who shot me." (Haaretz, November 24, 2014)
Tensions rose to critical levels following violence at the Temple Mount and al-Aksa Mosque in late 2014. Following tense weeks of riots in Jerusalem surrounding access to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aksa Mosque, on November 1 2014 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in secret with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Jordan's capital city of Amman. During the meeting Netanyahu and King Abdullah discussed security at the Temple Mount and the Al-Aksa Mosque: members of the Jordanian Waqf Authority are stationed at the Al-Aksa Mosque and help provide security. The purpose of this meeting was to coordinate security measures at the holy site between the Jordainain Waqf Authority and the IDF. A few days after the meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu called King Abdullah and assured him that the Jordanian special status at the Temple Mount will not change due to recent developments. Both leaders called for an immediate cessation of late 2014's violence surrounding access to the Temple Mount. Following this meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the two leaders in Jordan and stated that everyone involved was interested in de-escalating the situation.
Palestinian individuals participated in various acts of violence and incitement at the Temple Mount and al-Aksa Mosque during October and November 2014. Protestors with bags over their hands and feet and masks on their faces to obstruct their appearance flung rocks, molotov cocktails, cinderblocks, and other items at Israeli security forces on multiple occasions. On November 13, 2014, over 60 foreign Ambassadors and Diplomats stationed in Israel were briefed by the Israeli Police Commissioner and Deputy Foreign Minister about the status of the recent situation at the Temple Mount. During the briefing they were shown photos and videos of Palestinian individuals building barriers and other obstructions with trash cans and other materials to prevent security personnel from accessing certain areas of the grounds, and hurling fireworks and molotov cocktails from within the al-Aksa Mosque where there is abundant historical and irreplacable material. The only harm that came to the al-Aksa Mosque came from the Palestinians themselves.
In early 2015, Palestinian women began to “protect” the al-Aksa Mosque from Jews, with one woman stating that “Everybody must protect Al Aqsa so the Jews don’t take it. They have their eyes on it.” The dean of Islamic studies at Al-Quds University, Mustafa Abu Sway, stated that “there is no similar situation” in Islamic history where women had taken such an active role in the gaurding of a holy site. The women chanted at Jewish visitors, hurled anti-Semitic slurs, and chased Jewish individuals, leading some of them to be banned from the holy complex (New York Times, April 17, 2015).
A large group of masked Palestinian protestors attacked Israeli Security forces at the Temple Mount with rocks, molotov cocktails, homemade explosives, firecrackers, and peices of wood during the weekend of July 25, 2015. The protestors brought these dangerous items with them to the al-Aksa Mosque, with the intention of using them to attack Israelis who had gathered at the Western Wall for the mourning and fasting holiday of Tisha B'Av. After initially clashing with Israeli security forces, the protestors retreated inside of the al-Aksa Mosque and began throwing items at police officers from within the Mosque. In response, the police officers ventured inside of the Mosque and closed the doors and windows, which diffused the situation. Hundreds of Jewish individuals visited the Western Wall during the holiday.
Members of the Israel Allies Foundation's Congressional caucus were harassed by a group of Arab men while they visited the Temple Mount on August 11, 2015. The group of U.S. Congressmen were visiting the Temple Mount as a part of their planned trip to the Middle East, and were, “immediately approached by several men who started shouting,” upon their arrival to the holy site, according to Representative Keith Rothfus, Congressman from Pennsylvania. Rothfus continued, describing that the group of Congressmen were, “tracked the entire time we were there and we found these individuals surprisingly intollerant and belligerent.” Arab men at the Temple Mount shouted at the Congressmen's wives that they should cover themselves, even though they were wearing long sleve shirts and ankle-length skirts. Allegedly Jordanian Waqf gaurds, who carry the responsibility of providing security at the Temple Mount, began harassing the guide who was leading the Congressmen and trying to take his maps away. Police were called to break up the commotion as a group of 15-20 individuals began shouting at the Congressmen, and for the rest of their visit the group was followed by several Arab men who continued to intimidate and antagonize them. (Jerusalem Post, August 11, 2015).
Dozens of Islamic activists were banned from the Temple Mount during morning hours in August 2015, for intimidating and harassing Jewish worshipers at the Wall. Groups of women known for shouting and throwing stones and other objects at Jewish worshipers were banned from the Temple Mount between the hours of 7:30a.m. and 11:00a.m.
Palestinian leaders spread false rumors in late 2015 that Israeli authorities were considering altering the status-quo at the Temple Mount and allowing Jews to pray in the mosques, which stoked the flames of violence. Palestinian Muslim protestors and Israeli police clashed on the Temple Mount during the weekend of September 12, 2015. Palestinian youths and young adults holed up inside the al-Aksa Mosque and flung molotov cocktails and large rocks at the security forces attempting to keep the peace among chaos. Twenty-six Palestinians were injured during the confrontation along with five Israeli policemen, and two protestors were arrested. The violence damaged the windows and the carpets inside of the mosque. In response to this violence Israeli officials ramped up security in Jerusalem's Old City, deploying an additional 800+ IDF soldiers and police officers in the area surrounding the Temple Mount. The following weekend Palestinian protestors once again clashed with Israeli security officers at the Temple Mount, but the situation was much more controlled.
In response to rising violence surrounding the Temple Mount and an increase in terror attacks targetting Israelis during September and October 2015, Israeli authorities implemented age restrictions on the Temple Mount for the second time in less than one year, and closed Palestinian access to Jerusalem's Old City. On October 4, 2015, Israeli security officials announced that they were banning non-resident Palestinians from the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as banning Muslims under the age of 50 from the al-Aksa mosque compound. The security forces had most recently restricted access to the mosque only to patrons over 50 years of age in November 2014. Although these restrictions were lifted two days later, the violence escalated. During the subsequent week seven Israelis were killed and twenty were injured by Palestinian terrorists, mostly in stabbing attacks. These “lone wolf” attacks are unpredictable and impossible to prevent, often spontaneous and deadly. The Israeli military deployed reserve troops throughout Jerusalem during the second weekend of October to assist security forces in countering this wave of violent attacks. Six companies worth of troops were deployed in Jerusalem on October 13, and security gaurds were on high alert country-wide. The violence continued into the next week.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected a French proposal to place the Temple Mount under the authority of international observers on October 18, 2015. French ambassador to the United Nations Francois Delattre circulated a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council, to which Netanyahu responded “Israel cannot accept the French draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council. It doesn’t mention Palestinian incitement; it doesn’t mention Palestinian terrorism; and it calls for the internationalization of the Temple Mount.” (Bloomberg, October 18, 2015)
On October 20, 2015, the Palestinians, backed by six Arab states, succeeded in erasing the historical connection between Jews and their holy sites by convincing the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to list the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem as Muslim sites. The resolution - which passed 26-6 with 25 abstentions - also condemned Israel for archaeological excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem and particularly near the Temple Mount.
The Arabs also wanted to designate the Western Wall as an extension of and part of the Al-Aksa Mosque, but they were forced to back down after a storm of international protest and the opposition of UNESCO’s Director-General. The final draft also softened some of the anti-Israel rhetoric and omitted a reference to Jerusalem as the “occupied capital of Palestine.” To read the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejection of the decision un UNESCO, please click here.
In order to subdue the violence surrounding access to the Temple Mount and Al-Aksa, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on October 24, 2015, that Israeli and Jordanian authorities had agreed to various steps aimed at reducing tensions at the holy site. After meeting with Israeli leaders as well as Jordanian King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry stated that all parties involved agreed to consider having round-the-clock video monitoring installed at the site. All sides reaffirmed the Jordanian commitment to keep the current status-quo at the Temple Mount. Israel agreed that it: fully respects Jordan's role as custodian of the site, has no intention of dividing the site, and will work with Jordanian authorities to ensure that visitors and worshipers of various religions respect each other. Israel and Jordan officially signed an agreement for the installation of security cameras at the Temple Mount on March 6, 2016. The feed would be monitored by both Israeli and Jordanian authorities, and there would be no cameras placed inside the Al-Aksa mosque. Installation of the security cameras was expected to be completed by Passover 2016. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour called off the agreement on April 18, 2016, stating, “as we respect the points of views of our brethren in Palestine in general and in Jerusalem in particular, and because we always affirm our full support to the Palestinians and their aspirations at all times, we found that this project is a point of contentious and therefore, we decided to halt its implementation.”
The executive board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a resolution on April 15, 2016, that ignores the historic Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The resolution refers to the entire Temple Mount area only as the al-Aksa Mosque, only referring to the Temple Mount in parenthesis. The UNESCO executive board solely blamed Israel for the violence that occured at the Temple Mount in Fall 2015, completely omitting any aggression or instigation by Muslim rioters. The resolution addresses the period of violence that began in October 2015, citing “constant aggressions by the Israeli settlers,” as the primary catalyst and failing to mention the Palestinians who continue to attack Israelis or the 34 Israelis who were killed in these attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement in response to the resolution, accusing UNESCO of “rewriting a basic part of human history.” (Jerusalem Post, April 15, 2016)
The al-Aksa Mosque was closed to non-Muslim visitors on June 26, 2016 until the end of the Ramadan holiday by the Israeli government, in an attempt to quell moderate violence that occured there during the previous week.
Israeli security officials made the decision to lengthen the time in the mornings dedicated to Jewish and non-Muslim visitations to the al-Aksa compound by one hour. This decision, announced on December 5, 2016, allows Jews and non-Muslims to visit the al-Aksa compound from 7:30a.m. to 11a.m., instead of 10a.m.