AMMAN, Jordan (RNS) — Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa complex, the third holiest mosque in Islam, was the scene of violent confrontations Sunday (July 18), as Israeli security personnel forcibly cleared the area for Jews to observe their day of mourning for the destruction of two temples they believe once occupied the site.
More than 1,000 Jewish worshippers arrived at what Jews called the Temple Mount to observe Tisha b’av after police had dispersed a crowd of Palestinian protesters. The police used an assortment of crowd control weapons, according to the Times of Israel, including sponge-tipped bullets, against Muslims who had barricaded themselves on the esplanade.
The clash came days ahead of Eid Al Adha, the holiest day on the Islamic calendar, when devout Muslims mark the culmination of the hajj. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli authorities earlier this year were provoked in part by disagreements over the use of Jerusalem’s holy sites, resulting in warfare between Hamas in Gaza and Israel.
Sunday’s Tisha b’av celebration violates the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, the Jordanian foreign ministry said. Article 9 of the treaty allows Jews and others access to holy places on the condition that “the parties act together.” Muslim critics said Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, allowed Jewish worshippers to enter the esplanade without coordinating with the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a religious trust that manages the mosque area.
Jordan’s foreign ministry sent an official letter of protest calling on Israel “to stop its violations and provocations, respect the historical and legal status quo, respect the sanctity of the mosque and the freedom of worshipers and respect the authority of the Jordan-run Jerusalem Endowment Department and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs.”
Daifallah al-Fayez, spokesman for the Jordan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed in a statement that the “Israeli actions against the mosque represent a violation of the historical and legal status quo, international law and Israel’s obligations as an occupying power in East Jerusalem.”
On the official Israeli prime minister’s Twitter account, Bennett thanked Police Inspector General Yaakov Shabtai “for managing the events on the Temple Mount with responsibility and consideration, while maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.”
An Israeli expert on Jerusalem issues who asked not to be identified told Religion News Service that, according to Israeli law, Jews and others have a right to pray on the Temple Mount. “The Israel-Jordan agreement does not explicitly say that non-Muslim prayer at the site is prohibited,” he said. “Rather, when the Israeli police prevent Jews from praying, it does so based on an Israeli law relating to a risk to the public order.”
The Islamist Ra’am Party, a member of Bennett’s ruling coalition, condemned the entry of hundreds of what it called Jewish settlers to the Temple Mount area.
“The Al-Aqsa Mosque … is solely the property of Muslims, and no one else has any right to it,” the party said in a joint statement with its parent organization, the Islamic Movement.
Patriarch Theophilos III, patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, also condemned the provocation, saying that “any visit to Al-Haram al-Sharif/Al Aqsa which is not approved by the Islamic waqf is considered an incursion and must be stopped.”
Wasfi al-Kailani, executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, told Religion News Service, “Religious leaders in Jerusalem used to welcome visitors during non-prayer hours, but we considered those who enter without permission of the waqf managers of the mosque to be intruders.
“Those who pray on the mosque compound are trying to claim ownership of one of the three holiest mosques in Islam that has been used for worship by Muslims since (the year) 638.”