Reading Time: 6 minutes

First Pages of Chapter Six: The Land and the Holy Sites 2012-2013



During 2012–2013 Jerusalem witnessed great leaps in Israel’s Judaization project. During the 2013 elections, groups advocating the construction of the “temple” and the destruction of al-Aqsa Mosque were able to acquire elections unprecedented political status. At the same time, they managed to improve their organization, activities and ability to coordinate. No observer or researcher will fail to see that the Judaization of Jerusalem is one of the central goals of the Israeli state, for which it utilizes resources and energy; it is progressing on the ground in an unprecedentedly efficient manner, and that it has been increasingly acquiring US cover.

Israeli settlement expansion continues to go hand in hand with land confiscation programs, construction of housing units, destruction of Palestinian agriculture, imposition of control over Palestinian water, laying bypass roads, and demolition of Palestinian homes. This is in addition to the continuing the siege of the GS and military attacks against it, destruction of its infrastructure, obstruction of fishing, and other programs for attacking Palestinians and their land.

First: Islamic and Christian Holy Sites

1. Al-Aqsa Mosque

a. Developments in the Political, Religious and Legal Stances Towards al-Aqsa Mosque

After al-Aqsa Mosque was occupied in 1967, the occupation authorities enacted a law called “Protection of Holy Places Law,” which consisted of five items that included protecting the holy places from “desecration and any other violation,” and determined a punishment for those who desecrate them or “violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them.”  In practice, the Israeli government interpreted this text by directing the Israeli police to prevent Jews from entering al-Aqsa Mosque, citing many factors and considerations. The mosque was placed under the management of the Ministry of Defense, in a tacit admission that al-Aqsa Mosque is an occupied territory, the same as the rest of the WB territories captured in the war of 1967, contrary to what Zionist decrees had declared in their theory of annexing Jerusalem.

In view of these historical facts, this law and its interpretation by the Israeli police constituted a barrier to Orthodox Jews advocating the construction of the “temple.” And with their gradual rise since the 1990s, these groups faced two choices: either to enact substitute legislation in the Knesset that explicitly states “the rights of Jews” over al-Aqsa Mosque, or resort to Israeli courts in the hope of securing gradual change in the interpretation of this law.

Since 1993, these groups began a game of exchanging roles with Israeli courts; at first they presented an inquiry to the “Supreme Court” in which they asked whether what it called the “Temple Mount” was part of the “Land of Israel”; the reply came in the affirmative. Then at the turn of the 21st century, they applied for Jews’ entry into the mosque, based on the first judgment. In 2003, a provision was issued that allows Jews to enter the mosque; thus, for the first time, changing the task of the Israeli police from preventing Jews from entering, to allowing them in. Then, in 2005, a new provision was enacted that allowed Jews entry en masse “in non-Muslim prayer time.” The court thus disclosed for the first time, albeit implicitly, an agenda for dividing al-Aqsa Mosque. Then in 2010, these groups presented a request to make offerings inside al-Aqsa Mosque; the court denied their request for security reasons.

It seems that this legal route has reached saturation in terms of what can be achieved, as the rules of access to al-Aqsa Mosque have indeed changed. With the accumulation of permissions allowing Jews to enter the mosque, individually and in groups, the task of the Israeli police having changed from preventing them from entering, to protecting them and their incursions. A special task force was formed to protect Jews inside the mosque, and a security field of cameras, thermal sensors, and three-dimensional simulation programs was installed in all parts of al-Aqsa Mosque, the roofed and the non-roofed areas.

Despite these developments, extremist Jewish groups went to the Knesset again to complete their project. And since they had, in the previous Knesset, a limited pressure group of seven deputies, on 9/8/2012 they let their deputies present a plan to divide al-Aqsa Mosque into a full temporal division; consisting of nine hours a day for Jewish worshipers, and nine hours a day for Muslim worshipers, and to limit access to it to Jews on Jewish holidays and to Muslims on Islamic holidays.  Despite the fact that the Speaker of the Knesset withdrew this item from circulation at that meeting, fearing the repercussions of discussing it, the project has revealed the goals of these groups in unequivocal terms.

The 19th Knesset elections on 22/1/2013, gave the temple groups greater political influence; and in the formation of the government emerging from the elections, they comprised a bloc of six ministers and deputy ministers, namely:

1. Uri Yehuda Ariel, one of the biggest advocates of continuous incursions into al-Aqsa Mosque, and an active participant in them. He belongs to The Jewish Home Party (HaBayit HaYehudi), and was appointed Minister of Construction and Housing.

2. Naftali Bennett, a member of The Jewish Home Party, Minister of Religious Services, Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor, and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.

3. Danny Danon is the one who proposed a bill to ban the early morning (Fajr) call to prayer (Adhan) from mosques, a member of Likud-Yisrael Beitenu, Deputy Minister of Defense.

4. Zeev Elkin is the one who proposed division in terms of time allowed to visit al-Aqsa, presented on 9/8/2012; a member of Likud-Yisrael Beitenu; Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

5. Tzipi Hotovely is a member of the Likud Party, Danon’s partner in the bill to ban the early morning call to prayer; Deputy Minister of Transport and Road Safety.

6. Eli Ben-Dahan, a member of The Jewish Home Party, Deputy Minister of Religious Services.

In addition, there are two leaders at the Knesset level: Rabbi Moshe Feiglin, a member of Likud-Yisrael Beitenu, is deputy speaker of Knesset, and Miri Regev, chairwoman of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee.

Despite this unprecedented progress, these groups did not submit a new draft law on the division to the Knesset. They rather opted to use their newfound powers to put pressure on state agencies to advance their agenda. Thus, they offered an idea for consideration to the effect that al-Aqsa Mosque is not under Israeli sovereignty, and that the entire state’s apparatus must discuss ways to subjugate it to Israeli sovereignty. Thus, the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee convened more than once to discuss this subject; it was also discussed in a special report by the state prosecutor. Starting on 14/4/2013, marches and sit-ins by these groups were organized to provoke public opinion, and a three-track campaign was launched:

1. Pressuring the Israeli police to amend the rules of entering the mosque, and restrict Muslims’ entry to it, with a focus on the times targeted for division, in particular the time of forenoon (Duha). Consequently, Israeli police amended entry rules to al-Aqsa Mosque, and visiting Jews repeatedly attacked Muslims there.

2. Restricting Islamic endowments (Waqf) activities, and imposing supervision upon their restoration work.

3. Political abolition of the status quo, culminating on 25/2/2014 with long discussions in the Knesset on the transfer of sovereignty on al-Aqsa Mosque de facto to Jordanian sovereignty.  In fact, Jordan has limited administrative powers over al-Aqsa Mosque, the Islamic endowments and the Islamic courts, through the Department of Islamic Endowments and the Jerusalem Council of Endowments. However, and since sovereignty is a concept linked to possessing coercive power and the ability to enforce the law by using this force, it is effectively already in the hands of the occupation.

The temple groups view what happened in 1967, consecrating the administrative authority of endowments over al-Aqsa Mosque, as an historical sin. Today they look forward to using their new influence to correct this path and to place the mosque under the authority of the Israeli Ministry of Religious Services, to be administered directly by Israel, taking advantage of the state of regional political vacuum around it, and the unprecedented US support for its agenda. A document was revealed by al-Aqsa Association for Waqf and Heritage on 11/10/2013; the group called Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish leadership) in the Likud Party presented a scheme to the Minister of Religious Services including temporal and spatial division of al-Aqsa Mosque, and the basis upon which it should be run. For the first time, the scheme explicitly disclosed the plan for a spatial division of the mosque, aiming to define two spaces for the prayer of the Jews in the Eastern courtyards of the mosque: the first colored green and allocated to individual prayers of Jews, and the second colored brown and allocated to their collective prayers.

Map 1/6: Spatial Division of al-Aqsa Mosque

There are 19 associations with “temple”-related missions, registered with the Registrar of Associations, and enjoying wide cooperation from the Knesset, Israeli government, and the political establishment.

[1]   This study is the approved English translation of chapter six of the book entitled: The Palestinian Strategic Report 2012–2013, edited by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh. Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut released the Arabic version in 2014. The first draft of this chapter was written by Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Abu Jabir and Ziad Bhies.

>> Click here to download Chapter Six: The Land and the Holy Sites 2012-2013 (45 pages, 1.5 MB)

 The Executive Summary of The Palestinian Strategic Report 2012–2013 and the Expected Trends for 2014



Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 30/10/2015