Then Solomon began to build the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah. It was on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David, his father.
– 2 Chronicles 3:1
Glory be to Him who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Sanctuary to the farthest Sanctuary, whose precincts We did bless....
– The Koran, Sura Al-Isra’ 17:1
The Temple Mount is the trapezoid-shaped, walled-in area in the southeastern corner of the Old City of Jerusalem. The four walls surrounding it date back – at least in their lower parts – to the time of the Second Jewish Temple, built at the end of the first century BCE. These massive supporting walls, partly buried underground, were built around the summit of the eastern hill identified as Mount Moriah, the site traditionally viewed as the location where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice and the known location of the two Jewish temples. The gaps between the walls and the Mount were filled to create a large surface area around the Temple. Its eastern wall and the eastern half of its southern wall form part of the city wall on those sides. Deep valleys (now partly filled by debris) run outside the walls (northeast, east, south, west), thus separating the Temple Mount from and elevating it above its surroundings, both inside and outside the city.
The dimensions of the Temple Mount extend considerably beyond those given in the Mishnah (Mid. 2:1), which describes a square of approximately 250 × 250 m., referring only to the sanctified area within the Temple Mount as known today. The entire enclosure consists of an esplanade or courtyard surrounding an elevated platform occupying approximately 36 acres of land and decorated by arched structures around the Dome of the Rock. In each of the walls, there are several gates. Some are ancient gates, such as the Golden Gate, which are blocked, and some are newer gates from the Arab conquest onward that are still in service.
Within the area of the Temple Mount, there are about 100 different structures from various periods, among them great works of art and craftsmanship, including open Muslim prayer spots, arches, arched porticos, Muslim religious schools, minarets, and fountains (some for drinking and others for worshipers to wash their hands and feet before prayer). Underneath the present-day surface, in the artificial parts of the Mount, there are 34 cisterns. There are also other substructures, the largest of which is known as Solomon’s stables.
The Temple Mount (Heb., Har Habayit; Arabic, Haram esh-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary) is identified in both Jewish and Islamic tradition as the area of Mount Moriah where Abraham offered his son in sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-18; the Koran, Sura Al-Saffat 37:102-110).
Here King Solomon built the First Temple almost 3,000 years ago. The Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BCE, but 70 years later, Jews returning from exile built the Second Temple on the same site. King Herod began remodeling the building in 19 BCE, but it was not completed until 63 CE, long after his death at the beginning of the century.
In reaction to the “Great Revolt” in 70 CE, the Temple was destroyed by the Romans and deliberately left in ruins. When the Romans razed the Temple, they left one outer wall standing. They probably would have destroyed that wall as well, but it must have seemed too insignificant to them since it was not part of the Temple itself, just a retaining wall surrounding the Temple Mount.
After the suppression of the revolt, Jews were allowed to pray on the ruins and to bring sacrifices on the altar that remained after the Temple was burned down. Emperor Hadrian later gave Jews permission to rebuild the Temple but changed his mind. After the Bar-Kokhba rebellion, Hadrian barred Jews from the area, and they prayed instead on the Mount of Olives that overlooked the Temple Mount.
There is some evidence that the Byzantines may have built a church on the Temple Mount at one point, but the prohibition on Jews praying there remained under Emperor Constantine, who allowed them access only on Tisha B’Av. When his nephew Julian became emperor in 361, Jews were again allowed to visit the Temple Mount and were even given permission to rebuild the Temple. When Julian died two years later, however, his successor canceled the project, and Christian opposition to a Jewish presence continued throughout the Byzantine period.
At various times Jews may have been allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, but wherever they lived, Jews would pray three times a day in the direction of the Temple Mount for the Temple’s restoration.
Following the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in May 638, which Jews supported, Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab ordered the clearing of the site and the building of a house of prayer. The Temple Mount was again opened to Jewish worshippers.
In 680, the Muslims built the Dome of the Rock to enshrine the outcrop of bedrock believed to be the place of the sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Nadav Shragai quotes Professor Dan Bahat, who found “‘it was the Jewish elders who showed the Muslims the boundaries of the Foundation Stone,’ which was covered with garbage and sewage – boundaries from which the Muslims derived the dimensions of the Dome of the Rock, which was built above the ancient Rock.”
From then on, the Temple Mount became a holy site for Muslims.
Jews were allowed to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount, which Loewenberg says may have been active during the early Muslim period.
The grey-domed building is the al-Aqsa Mosque
The construction of the al-Aqsa Mosque (“the farthest mosque”) in 715 (some sources say 705) cemented the status of the Temple Mount as a holy site for Muslims. The place is identified as the furthermost sanctuary (Arabic, masjid al-aksa) from which the Prophet Mohammed, accompanied by the Angel Gabriel, made the Night Journey to the Throne of God (Koran, Sura Al-Isra’ 17:1).
A synagogue was again built on the Mount following the Fatimid conquest in 969, which remained in use until 1015. After being banned by Caliph al-Hakim, Jews returned to the Mount until the arrival of the Crusaders in 1099. “The Crusaders ascended the Temple Mount and, after giving thanks to God for their victory, converted the mosques into churches, renaming the Dome of the Rock the Temple of God (Templum Domini) and al-Aqsa Mosque, the Temple of Solomon (Templum Solomnis),” notes Loewenberg. “The mount was declared off-limits to all non-Christians and became the center of religious and civil life in Crusader Jerusalem.”
Saladin retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187 and reconverted the shrines into Muslim houses of worship. Jews were again allowed to build a synagogue but were later banned from the Temple Mount.
Jewish fortunes were reversed again following the conquest of Sultan Suleyman I in 1516 and the ascendence of the Ottoman Empire. Jews were prohibited from visiting the Temple Mount, but in 1546, an earthquake devastated the region, damaging the Temple Mount and the surrounding area. Suleyman ordered the rubble of homes adjacent to the Western Wall to be cleared for a prayer site for the Jews. Suleyman issued a firman (decree) that Jews had the right to pray there. This decree remained in force and was honored by his successors for more than 400 years. The area, which Loewenberg notes, was previously unknown to the Jews, became the second holiest place for Jews and a pilgrimage site.
Jews still went to the Temple Mount in times when it was permitted, but some rabbinical authorities, including Maimonides, decreed that Jews should not go there because it had been the site of the Holy of Holies of the Temple (though no one knew exactly where that part of the Temple had been) and Jews could no longer achieve the level of ritual purity required to step on this holy ground. Other Jewish scholars disputed this position. Consequently, some Jews ignored the prohibition, while most Orthodox Jews complied.
The Dome of the Rock (Arabic, Qubbat al-Sakhra) is one of the most recognizable architectural glories of the world. It is the oldest Muslim religious building outside Arabia. The design of the building is Byzantine – double octagonal ambulatories encircling the Holy Rock. It is a shrine, not a mosque, and is sometimes inaccurately referred to as the Mosque of Omar.
The Dome of the Rock is an architectural expression of the ascendancy of Islam. The interior glass mosaics in the drum and dome contain representations of Byzantine imperial jewelry and one of the ornate inscriptions, “He is God. He is One. He has no companion. He does not Beget. He is not begotten” (cf. Qur’an IX, 31-3; CXII, 1-3) affirms that God is One and not three; and that Jesus was an apostle of God and His Word and not His son.
The shrine stands on or near the approximate site of the Jewish Temple (though scholars disagree whether it was the Holy of Holies or the Altar that stood on the location of the rock). It has even been suggested that the Temple building stood 80 meters further north, on the site of the small 16th-century Qubbat al-Arwah (Arabic, Dome of the Winds or Spirits) on an east-west axis with the present Golden Gate.
The exterior of the Dome of the Rock has undergone several restorations. The exterior tiles were last restored in 1963, and the gold-leafed dome in 1994.
The al-Aqsa Mosque, at the south end of the Temple Mount platform, is the third holiest place in Islam after the Ka’aba in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. It was last rebuilt in 1035 and has since undergone several restorations – most recently in 1938-42; and again, beginning in 1969, to repair extensive damage from a fire deliberately set by a deranged Christian tourist.
The design of the building is that of a basilica with a narrow central nave flanked by six aisles (14 aisles in an earlier 8th-century phase). The decoration of the mihrab (prayer niche) in the south wall was a gift of the Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin). The beautiful inlaid cedar wood minbar (pulpit), also donated to the mosque by Salah al-Din, was destroyed in the 1969 fire.
A stairway in front of the north entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque leads down to a vaulted passageway and the walled-up Hulda Gates, which had been an entrance to the Temple Mount Platform at the time of the Herodian Second Temple.
During the Mamluk and Ottoman periods and until the mid-19th century, non-Muslims were not permitted onto the Haram. The first known exception was made by order of the Ottoman Sultan in 1862, during the visit of the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII.
On the second day of the 1967 Six-Day War, the Israeli Defense Forces captured Jerusalem. Col. Mordechai Gur announced, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” In liberating the Temple Mount, the Jewish people reclaimed control over the area for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple.
Jews were given unfettered access to the Western Wall. The Temple Mount, however, was a different story. Initially, the chief rabbi of the IDF, Shlomo Goren, who had been with the troops and blew the shofar on the Temple Mount, set up a synagogue and office there.
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said:
Largely, out of fear of igniting a holy war with the Muslims, Dayan reversed his position, and Goren was ordered to cease his activities. On June 17, 1967, a meeting was held at al-Aqsa between Dayan and the Muslim religious authorities of Jerusalem, reformulating the status quo. Jews were given the right to visit the Temple Mount unobstructed and free of charge if they respected Muslims’ religious feelings and acted decently, but they were not allowed to pray. The Western Wall was to remain the Jewish place of prayer. ‘Religious sovereignty’ was to remain with the Muslims while ‘overall sovereignty’ became Israeli. Dayan’s offer was objected to by the Muslims, as they rejected the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem and the Mount. Some Jews, led by Rabbi Goren, objected as well, claiming the decision handed over the complex to the Muslims and argued that the Western Wall’s holiness is derived from the Mount and symbolizes exile, while praying on the Mount represents freedom and the return of the Jewish people to their homeland.
The president of the High Court of Justice, Aharon Barak, in response to an appeal in 1976 against police interference with an individual’s putative right to prayer on the site, expressed the view that, while Jews had a right to worship there, it was not absolute but subject to the public interest and the rights of other groups. Israel’s courts have considered the issue as one beyond their remit, and under political jurisdiction, given the delicacy of the matter. He wrote:
The basic principle is that every Jew has the right to enter the Temple Mount, to pray there, and to have communion with his maker. This is part of the religious freedom of worship; it is part of the freedom of expression. However, as with every human right, it is not absolute, but a relative right... Indeed, in a case where there is near certainty that injury may be caused to the public interest if a person’s rights of religious worship and freedom of expression would be realized, it is possible to limit the rights of the person in order to uphold the public interest.
Police continued to forbid Jews from praying on The Temple Mount. Subsequently, several prime ministers made attempts to change the status quo but failed to do so. Meanwhile, police sometimes turned a blind eye to discreet prayer services, and in October 2021, a Jerusalem judge said Jews had the right to say silent prayers, the first time a court endorsed Jewish prayer on the holy site. That decision was reversed, however, by a higher court and supported by the Public Security Minister, who said, “a change in the status quo will endanger public security and could cause a flare-up.”
The issue arose again in May 2022 when a Jerusalem court ruled that four Jewish teens should not have been arrested for reciting a prayer on the Temple Mount. The Jerusalem District Court reversed that decision. Judge Einat Avman Muller said that freedom of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount “is not absolute, and it should be superseded by other interests, among them the safeguarding of public order.”
Until 2000, non-Muslim visitors could enter the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Islamic Museum by getting a ticket from the Waqf. That procedure ended when the Second Intifada erupted.
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 controversial subject 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 to avoid offending Muslim worshippers. Beyond this, many rabbis 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 Muslim-only gates from various sites in the Old City. Tourists and Jews are only allowed access to the site through the Mugrabi Gate, located just above 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 instituted 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 to unearth the hidden history of one of the holiest places in the world. Since its inception, over 170,000 tourists and locals have participated in the project, sifting through mounds of rubble and dirt 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 occurred on the site following heavy winter storms. Two years later, Israel built a temporary detour bridge to ensure non-Muslim access to the Mount. Israel had also considered renovating the centuries-old bridge, but Palestinians assailed their decision as an attempt to destroy their historical site. Though this claim was patently false, Israel decided not to 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, fearing that its instability could lead to its collapse.
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, Molotov cocktails, and spraying flammable 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 Jewish individuals visited the holy site, causing increased tensions.
According to Israeli police, in advance of the disturbance, masked Palestinians had placed objects to block the police access to areas of the Temple Mount and poured flammable 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-Aqsa Mosque, where they barricaded the doors with large marble slabs, furniture, and wood posts. Bricks, rocks, and fireworks were thrown at the officers from inside the mosque, causing considerable damage to the interior. The rioters also sprayed an unidentified flammable substance on the officers, making breathing difficult. Three officers were hit and injured with rocks and fireworks. A fire broke out inside 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.
On October 17, 2014, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech stating that the Palestinians have to prevent the settlers from entering the Temple Mount by any means. He insisted, “It is our mosque and they have no right to enter and desecrate it.” On many occasions, Abbas has used the lie that “al-Aqsa is in danger” to provoke violence against Israelis.
Tensions rose to critical levels following violence at the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque in late 2014. Following tense weeks of riots in Jerusalem surrounding access to the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa 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-Aqsa Mosque: members of the Jordanian Waqf Authority are stationed at the al-Aqsa Mosque and help provide security. The purpose of this meeting was to coordinate security measures at the holy site between the Jordanian Waqf Authority and the IDF. A few days after the meeting, Netanyahu called King Abdullah and assured him that the special Jordanian status at the Temple Mount would not change.
Netanyahu made a similar trip to see the king in 2023 to reassure him that Israeli policy would not change despite the wishes of some far-right members in his cabinet. Concerns were heightened when one of those ministers Itamar Ben Gvir, visited the Temple Mount, even though it occurred without incident.
Meanwhile, the number of other Jews ascending the Mount increased dramatically from 20,684 in 2020 to 51, 483 in 2022.
Palestinian individuals participated in various acts of violence and incitement at the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa 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, more than 60 foreign Ambassadors and Diplomats stationed in Israel were briefed by the Israeli Police Commissioner and Deputy Foreign Minister about the 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-Aqsa Mosque, where there is abundant historical and irreplaceable material. The only harm to the al-Aqsa Mosque came from the Palestinians themselves.
In early 2015, Palestinian women began to “protect” the al-Aqsa 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 guarding 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 sacred complex.
A large group of masked Palestinian protestors attacked Israeli security forces at the Temple Mount with rocks, Molotov cocktails, homemade explosives, firecrackers, and pieces of wood during the weekend of July 25, 2015. The protestors brought these dangerous items with them to the al-Aqsa Mosque to use 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 the al-Aqsa Mosque and began throwing items at police officers from within the Mosque. In response, the police officers entered the mosque and closed the doors and windows, diffusing the situation. Hundreds of Jewish individuals visited the Western Wall during the holiday.
A group of Arab men harassed members of the Israel Allies Foundation’s Congressional caucus while they visited the Temple Mount on August 11, 2015. The 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 was “tracked the entire time we were there and we found these individuals surprisingly intolerant and belligerent.” Arab men at the Temple Mount shouted at the Congressmen’s wives that they should cover themselves, even though they wore long-sleeved shirts and ankle-length skirts. Allegedly Jordanian Waqf guards, who carry the responsibility of providing security at the Temple Mount, began harassing the guide 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.
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-Aqsa Mosque and flung Molotov cocktails and large rocks at the security forces attempting to keep the peace. Twenty-six Palestinians were injured during the confrontation, along with five Israeli police officers. The violence damaged the windows and the carpets inside the mosque. In response to this violence, Israeli officials ramped up security and deployed additional soldiers and police officers in the area surrounding the Temple Mount. Palestinian protestors once again clashed with Israeli security officers at the Temple Mount the following weekend, but the situation was much more controlled.
Following a series of terror attacks targeting Israelis during September and October 2015, Israeli security officials announced that they were banning non-resident Palestinians from the Old City and Muslims under 50 from the al-Aqsa 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 guards were on high alert country-wide. The violence continued into the following week.
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, particularly near the Temple Mount.
The Arabs also wanted to designate the Western Wall as an extension of, and part of, the al-Aqsa 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 anti-Israel rhetoric and omitted a reference to Jerusalem as the “occupied capital of Palestine.” Israel called the resolution “shameful.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on October 24, 2015, that Israeli and Jordanian authorities had agreed to various steps to reduce tensions at the holy site. After meeting with Israeli leaders, Jordanian King Abdullah, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry stated that all parties 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 to respect Jordan’s role as custodian of the site and work with Jordanian authorities to ensure that visitors and worshipers of various religions respect each other.
Israel and Jordan officially signed an agreement to install security cameras at the Temple Mount on March 6, 2016. Israeli and Jordanian authorities would monitor the feed, and there would be no cameras inside the al-Aqsa mosque. Installation of the security cameras was expected to be completed by Passover 2016. After the Palestinians objected, however, 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.”
Though as many as 90,000 worshippers were allowed to attend services in May 2021, Palestinians complained of several provocations that prompted riots on the Temple Mount, such as police preventing them from gathering outside the Damascus Gate (the order was later rescinded), disconnecting loudspeakers, and otherwise interfering in the observance of Ramadan. On May 7, after learning that rocks and other weapons for rioters were being stockpiled in the mosque, and police were attacked, officers raided the mosque, and the video of the incursion went viral provoking more protests.
May 10 was Jerusalem Day when Israelis held an annual march celebrating the city’s reunification. The same day the Supreme Court was due to rule whether an order to evict a group of families from Sheikh Jarrah should be enforced, but the decision was delayed to avoid escalating tensions.
Though none of these events directly affected the people in Gaza, Hamas saw a chance to demonstrate that it was defending Jerusalem. On May 10, 2021, the group fired six rockets at Jerusalem. Violence escalated and prompted Israel to launch Operation Guardian of the Walls.
As many as 150,000 Muslims peacefully prayed during Ramadan on the Temple Mount in April 2022; however, Palestinian propaganda claimed that Jews threatened the al-Aqsa Mosque, prompting rioting against Israeli police. The need to prevent violence compelled Israeli police to enter the mosque – after prayers were finished – and make arrests. The Palestinians condemned Israel even though the police left the site and, a few hours later, thousands of Muslims assembled in the same area for prayers.
UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland backed Israel’s version of events, telling the Security Council, “On 15 April, during the early morning hours, a large number of Palestinians gathered at the al-Aqsa compound. Some Palestinians threw stones, fireworks, and other heavy objects toward Israeli Security Forces, and ISF used stun grenades, sponge-tipped bullets and batons, including against some bystanders....several dozen Palestinians entered a mosque in the compound, with some continuing to throw stones and fireworks toward ISF. Following a standoff with those inside, Israeli police entered the mosque and arrested those barricaded inside. During the clashes, some damage was caused to the structure of the mosque” (Jacob Magid, “UN envoy cites Israeli account of how Temple Mount clashes began,” Times of Israel, April 25, 2022)
This libel, which dates at least to the 1920s when the mufti of Jerusalem used the lie to incite the masses, is viewed by Palestinian provocateurs as a rallying cry to distract people from the corruption of their leaders and their denial of Palestinians’ human rights. As the mufti attempted nearly a century earlier, Palestinian Islamic extremists and “secular moderates” such as Mahmoud Abbas continue to stoke the religious war between Muslims and Jews. They hope to incite a new Palestinian uprising and, ideally, to inspire Arab and Islamic armies to go to war to prevent the Jews from destroying the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. They also seek to prompt negative media coverage of Israel, inspire condemnation from the UN and politicians, and tar Israel’s image.
News report August 30, 1922
Abbas’s Adviser on Jerusalem Affairs, Ahmed al-Ruweidi, for example, warned on April 3, 2022, that a “massacre” of worshippers at the mosque would be conducted “by the occupation and its settlers.” Abbas’s Fatah Party said that continued visits of Jews to the Temple Mount would “turn into an open religious war” and that Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had promised to allow “Jewish extremists to break into the al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Palestinians also often claim that Jews want to destroy the mosque to rebuild the Temple. It is true that a fringe group of Jews, the Temple Mount Faithful, has this objective, and some were planning to sacrifice goats on the Temple Mount in April 2022, but the authorities are aware of the people involved and made sure they were not allowed near the area. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, even spoke out that it was forbidden to perform animal sacrifices. The Palestinians know that Israel has no intention of allowing anyone to threaten the holy places of any religion. Muslim officials were notified that no Jewish provocateurs would be permitted on the Temple Mount during Ramadan in 2022. Even Hamas admitted that it received such assurances.
The repetition of the “al-Aqsa is in danger” libel is meant to incite a new Palestinian uprising and, ideally, to provoke Muslims around the world to come to the mosque’s defense or demand that their governments do so.
The Temple Mount Faithful was founded in 1967 by former Israel Defense Forces officer and Middle Eastern studies lecturer Gershon Salomon. Their main objective is to “liberate the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation.” They contend that “the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque were placed on this Jewish or biblical holy site as a specific sign of Islamic conquest and domination.” The group wants the “pagan shrines” removed so the Third Temple can be built on the site.
“For them,” writes Zvi Bar’el, “without the Temple Mount, Israel cannot be a Jewish state, the reason for its survival will evaporate. For them, even if a religious war erupts, and even if Israel’s relations with its old and new Arab friends are severed, and certainly if sanctions are imposed on Israel – absolute control of the Temple Mount is worth the price.”
In October 1986, an agreement between the Temple Mount Faithful, the Supreme Muslim Council, and police, which would allow short visits in small groups, was exercised once and never repeated after 2,000 Muslims armed with stones and bottles attacked the group and stoned worshipers at the Western Wall. The group has made additional attempts to hold Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount and has been prevented from doing so by Israeli police. Nevertheless, their efforts and talk of destroying the Muslim sites and rebuilding the Temple have repeatedly provoked tensions and sometimes riots.
The executive board of UNESCO adopted a resolution on April 15, 2016, which ignores the historic Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The resolution refers to the entire Temple Mount area only as the al-Aqsa Mosque, only referring to the Temple Mount in parenthesis. The UNESCO executive board blamed Israel for the violence at the Temple Mount in the Fall of 2015, altogether omitting any mention of the aggression and instigation by Muslim rioters. The resolution addressed 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 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.”
Israeli security officials decided to lengthen the morning time dedicated to Jewish and non-Muslim visitations to the al-Aqsa compound by one hour. This decision, announced on December 5, 2016, allows Jews and non-Muslims to visit the al-Aqsa compound from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. instead of 10 a.m.
On July 13, 2017, three Arab-Israeli gunmen approached the ancient stone gates near the Temple Mount and murdered two Arab-Israeli police officers from Israel’s Druze community (Ha’il Satawi and Kamil Shnaan). A third police officer was lightly wounded. Israeli security forces subsequently killed the shooters and shut down the holy site for two days to conduct searches. Later, they learned that an accomplice had hidden the weapons used in the attack in the al-Aqsa mosque.
This was only the third time the Temple Mount had been closed since the 1967 War. It was reopened on July 15, 2017, with newly installed metal detectors, which Israeli officials said were necessary to ensure visitors’ safety. Cameras were added a few days later. The security measures are like those used at other holy sites worldwide; nevertheless, Palestinians and other Muslims outside Israel claimed they altered the status quo of the sacred site.
Fatah subsequently incited violent protests, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced he was canceling all cooperative activities with Israel until the detectors were removed. Meanwhile, the Waqf called for worshippers to avoid the Temple Mount if the security measures remained. On July 24, 2017, Israel removed the cameras and metal detectors to defuse the situation while considering introducing other security measures.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Israeli Foreign Ministry.
A.I. Kook, Mishpat Kohen (19662), no. 96. ET, 3 (1951), 224–41. 10 (1961), 578–87l.
Lambert Dolphin, Visiting the Temple Mount.
The Jerusalem Report, (January 16, 2012).
Ari Soffer, “UNESCO Passes Arab Resolution: Cave of Patriarchs ‘Islamic,’” Israel National News, (October 21, 2012).
F. M. Loewenberg, “Did Jews Abandon the Temple Mount?” Middle East Quarterly, (Summer 2013), pp. 37-48.
Nadav Shragai, “The “Al-Aksa Is in Danger” Libel: The History of a Lie,” JCPA, (October 7, 2014).
Lazar Berman, “Rioters hole up in mosque amid fierce Temple Mount melee,” Times of Israel, (October 8, 2014).
“Hundreds of Gazans visit Jerusalem for first time since 2007,” Haaretz, (October 5, 2014).
Renee Ghert-Zaand, “Yehudah Glick, shot in Jerusalem, works for Jews’ right to pray on Temple Mount,” Times of Israel, (October 30, 2014).
Luke Baker, “Clashes erupt as Israeli police kill Palestinian suspected of shooting Jewish far-rightist,” Reuters, (October 30, 2014).
Jodi Rudoren, “Israel to repoen contested holy site in Jerusalem,” New York Times, (October 31, 2014).
Nir Hasson, “Temple Mount activist released from hospital, lauds Arab medical workers.” Haaretz, (November 24, 2014).
Diaa Hadid, “Palestinian women join effort to keep Jews from contested holy site,” New York Times, (April 17, 2015).
“Palestinian rioters attack police on Temple Mount,” Times of Israel, (July 26, 2015).
Lahav Harkov, “Arabs harass US congressmen during visit to Temple Mount,” Jerusalem Post, (August 11, 2015).
Tovah Lazaroff, “UNESCO adopts resolution ignoring Jewish ties to Temple Mount,” Jerusalem Post, (April 15, 2016).
“PM: Jordan cancels plan to install cameras in Al Aqsa Mosque,” Petra.gov, (April 18, 2016).
“Israel closes al-Aqsa mosque till end of Ramadan after clashes,” Ahram Online, (June 28, 2016).
“Israeli police extends time for non-Muslim visitation at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound,” Maan News, (December 5, 2016).
Ian Deitch. Islamic leaders boycott Jerusalem site over metal detectors, Yahoo News, (July 17, 2017).
Karin Laub. Metal detectors at Jerusalem site trigger new tensions, AP, (July 18, 2017).
F.M. Loewenberg, “Is the Western Wall Judaism’s Holiest Site?” Middle East Quarterly, (Fall 2017).
“The Western Wall – First Century Jerusalem,” Bible History.
Nadav Shragai, “Ancient Muslim Texts Confirm the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem,” JCPA, (August 13, 2020).
“Court recognizes limited right to Jewish prayer on Temple Mount,” Arutz Sheva, (October 6, 2021).
Nir Hasson and Jack Khoury, “Israeli Court Reverses Ruling That Allowed Jews ‘Quiet’ Prayer on Temple Mount,” Haaretz, (October 8, 2021).
Jeremy Sharon, “Public security minister: No Jewish prayer on Temple Mount,” Jerusalem Post, (October 18, 2021).
“Objectives of the Temple Mount Faithful,” Temple Mount Faithful.
“Temple Mount and Eretz Yisrael Faithful Movement,” Wikipedia.
Maurice Hirsch, “The PA and Fatah are behind the current terror,” JNS, (April 11, 2022).
“Israel cannot allow rioters to desecrate Temple Mount,” Jerusalem Post, (April 17, 2022).
Bassam Tawil, “How Palestinians Desecrate Everyone’s Holy Sites, Including Their Own,” Gatestone Institute, (April 19, 2022).
Zvi Bar’el, “A War Over the Temple Mount Is Just a Matter of Time,” Haaretz, (April 19, 2022).
“Judge rules against Jews who prayed at Temple Mount, accepting state’s appeal,” Times of Israel, (May 26, 2022).
“2022 sees surge of Jews visiting Temple Mount,” JNS, (January 11, 2023).
Suleiman Al-Khalidi, “King Abdullah meets Israeli PM Netanyahu in surprise Jordan visit, royal court says,” Reuters, (January 24, 2023).
Photos courtesy of the Israeli Foreign Ministry
Aerial view of Temple Mount and Facade of al-Aqsa - Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Interior of mosque - Aseel zm, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.