According to Sharia (Islamic law) there is no prohibition on Christians and Jews praying in a mosque – even al-Aksa. That is what Dr. Mahmoud Habbash, the president of the Sharia Courts of Palestine, told me. The issues concerning al-Aksa are not about religion. The issue is control – to whom does the Haram al-Sharif (“The Noble Sanctuary,” as the Temple Mount is known to Muslims) belong.
The State of Israel annexed and expanded the borders of Jerusalem unilaterally in 1967. In 1949, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan annexed the West Bank and east Jerusalem unilaterally. Neither annexation was recognized under international law. In 1949, Great Britain and Pakistan were the only countries to recognize the Jordanian annexation.
Since 1967, not one country in the world has recognized the Israeli annexation.
Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the Temple Mount has never been recognized, and I believe never will be. Since 1967 Israel has recognized its limits regarding what it can legitimately do on the Temple Mount, and in both Oslo and in the Jordan-Israel peace treaty agreed that its future status would be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Temple Mount/al-Aksa (the Muslims refer to the entire mount as al-Aksa – the “distant place” from which the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven to receive the revelation of the Koran) has been at the core of repeated rounds of violence that have led to the deaths of thousands in the more than 100 years of conflict over this land.
The site was a flash point in the riots of 1920 and 1929 and more recently with the opening of the Hasmonean Tunnels in 1996, and the second intifada, called the “al-Aksa intifada,” after the visit of then opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the site in September 2000. The most recent round of violence has been called “the al-Aksa knife intifada.”
Jewish terrorists in the 1980s had plans to blow up the mosques. Former Jerusalem Police commander Amit Arieh has said that the thought of a Jew firing a missile at al-Aksa was his worst nightmare for many years. During Jewish festivals the Israeli security establishment has always been super-conscious of the explosive potential of the Temple Mount faithful who seek to destroy the mosques and to build the third temple. The Israel Police continue to enforce the non-allowance of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount out of fear for public safety. The Camp David summit in July 2000 exploded over the issue of the Israeli demand to construct a place for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. This small piece of real estate, approximately 36 acres, is perhaps the most sensitive and potentially explosive place on the planet.
Israel claims sovereignty and has determined over the past 50 years who can enter the Temple Mount and who cannot. While Israel asserts that it maintains freedom of worship to all in the holy places under its control, the truth is that a majority of Muslims living under Israel’s control do not have free access to the most important holy place in their country. That is a fact. It is also a fact that the Muslims in Palestine and in the entire world have never accepted Israel’s control over the Haram.
The terrorist attack by three Palestinian-Israeli citizens last Friday killing two Israeli (Druse) policemen must be condemned by all, including all Muslims. The bringing of weapons into the Haram al-Sharif/al-Aksa compound is against Islam. There is no question about this according to Islamic law.
All Muslims want al-Aksa to be secure and a place for peaceful worship. But because the place is so contentious in the context of the battle over sovereignty and control between Israel and the Palestinians, any new security measures meant to protect the sanctity of the holy places and people who worship there must be done in agreement with all parties involved.
The Islamic authorities at al-Aksa (Jordanian and Palestinian) should work with the Israel Police to ensure that the security of the Haram and the people who worship there is kept and that no one violates the sanctity of this place. The Israeli government and police must understand that they cannot take any unilateral action concerning the Haram and expect the Palestinians and Muslims around the world to accept it.
From 1994 until 2000 there were arrangements on the Haram al-Sharif involving security personnel from the Palestinian Authority and from Jordan.
Security officials working under the PA Preventive Security Force patrolled on the Haram and in the Old City of Jerusalem with Israeli agreement. For the past 10 years there has been profound coordination and cooperation between PA security and intelligence forces and Israel throughout the West Bank. Bringing PA security personnel back into the Old City and the Haram, with Jordanian agreement, would be momentous for achieving security and calming the situation down immediately.
It is in the interest of us all that we find a way to lower the tension now and begin a process of rebuilding trust that will enable a future agreement.
The fanatics in this land and in the neighborhood are acting dangerously irresponsibly and if there is more bloodshed there, it will be because of them.
The future of the status of the holy places will eventually be negotiated and agreed on by the parties. It is very unlikely that at any time in the foreseeable future the status quo of Muslim control and authority on the Haram will change.
For those who believe that God has given the site to them, I can only hope that they will allow God to make the determination, and that no human being will believe that they are entrusted with God’s truth to take action that will change what currently exists. For the sake of all of us who wish to live in this city of Jerusalem, in this land of Israel/ Palestine – to raise our families here and to live in peace, we must do everything possible to understand that some issues are beyond reason and rational thought. Issues of faith all too often go beyond compromise. The believers all pray to the same God and believe that the same space is God’s home.
Let’s all climb down from positions of ultimatums and work together towards ensuring that we don’t reach another round of horrific violence spurred by religious fervor.
The author is the founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives – www.ipcri.org.