Pub No. 545
The Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa: Heading Towards Loss of Control?
Publication Year: 2022
The Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa: Heading Towards Loss of Control?
Developments and Trends, 2015-2022
Israeli policy on the Temple Mount has undergone a transformation in recent years. The main element of the “status quo” as formulated by the government – namely, a prohibition on Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount – has been rapidly shifting. The number of religious Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount has been growing, and a variety of religious rituals (including prayer services and Torah lessons) have gradually been shaping a new reality on the compound.
This change reflects profound developments that are taking place among the Jewish public, particularly the national-religious public, regarding the place of the Temple Mount in religious consciousness and practice, and it starkly contravenes the position of the Chief Rabbinate and important Haredi (ultra-orthodox) adjudicators, who prohibit religious visits by Jews to the Temple Mount.
Concurrently, there have also been changes on the Muslim side: The influence of the Jordanian establishment, Palestinian Authority representatives, and Waqf leaders over what happens at the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa is declining, while the strength of East Jerusalemites and local “bottom-up” activists is increasing.
This study, conducted in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, surveys the developments and trends that took place at the Temple Mount during 2015-2022, examines the factors that led to erosion of the status quo regarding Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, and considers the repercussions of these changes for various actors in Israel, the Palestinian arena, the Muslim world, and the international arena.
The study focuses primarily on changes that have taken place on the Israeli-Jewish side since 1967, yet without overlooking developments on the Palestinian and Jordanian side, given that the two stories are intertwined and reciprocally influential.
- Reinforcing the coordination with Jordan (despite and because of its weakening) and with the Waqf – continuing the effort undertaken prior to last Ramadan (2022) – and to the extent possible with other actors; establishing a coordination mechanism or “situation room” to handle crises and loss of control; involving experts from all parties in crisis management.
- Installing cameras at the gates to the Temple Mount, which would stream to a joint center of the police and the Waqf, backed by Jordan, in furtherance of the understanding reached by US Secretary of State John Kerry with King Abdullah and Prime Minister Netanyahu in October 2015.
- Reinforcing the Waqf and measures against Hamas actors and radical Islamists operating on the compound. One of the possibilities to consider would be increasing the number of Waqf guards, in coordination with the authorities in Israel and after receiving approval from security bodies.
- Assigning Waqf guards the role of responding in the event that young Muslims engage in rioting or barricade themselves in any of the structures on the compound. If the Waqf is unsuccessful, the police would step in. The guiding principle should be that the police could only break into the mosque in special emergency cases.
- Dealing with the core group of young Palestinians (about 500 youths according to the police) who took part in the demonstrations and protests at Damascus Gate and the Temple Mount, among other means through educational-leadership and occupational programs similar to the District Attorney’s project for dealing with stone-throwing youths in the neighborhood of A-Tur.
- Increasing the height of the wall or installing a net that would prevent stone-throwing into the Western Wall Plaza. Such measures would prevent the spread of violence and stone-throwing from the Temple Mount to the Western Wall Plaza.
- In coordination with Jordan and the Waqf, removing construction debris (which currently provides a supply of stones for rioters) from the compound.
- Creating a mechanism for the police and authorities to handle the fake news being disseminated through social media, which fans the flames among both the Jewish and the Muslim-Palestinian publics; developing quick, efficient ways of disseminating credible information that could help instill calm.
- Enhancing coordination among the Israeli authorities focused on the Temple Mount: the police, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), National Security Council, Foreign Ministry, Antiquities Authority, and others. One possibility for consideration is the creation of a permanent apparatus or body to handle Temple Mount affairs and crises, alongside the police, which currently bear nearly sole responsibility for the day-to-day management of the Temple Mount.
- Preserving the Western Wall’s status as the main Jewish site of worship, with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the Chief Rabbinate providing a counterweight to the Temple Mount’s rising status.
- Restraining the radical Jewish groups among the Temple Mount organizations: those seeking to sacrifice lambs, those who enter the compound disguised as Muslims (to “stir things up”), and others – along the lines of measures taken by the police and the Israel Security Agency in preparation for Ramadan 2022.
- Restraining Jewish worship on the compound; ensuring that the groups of Jewish religious visitors are small enough for the police to supervise; prohibiting loud public prayer services (beyond quiet prayer); instituting a prohibition on prostrations, loud singing, blowing a shofar, displaying flags, and the like – including stricter enforcement by the police against violators. Hints of such stricter enforcement were evident in the preparations for and during the 2022 Tishrei holidays. During Sukkot the police took measures to prevent rituals – such as the lulav ceremony, prostration, public prayer services, and the like – but not always successfully. Clear boundaries have to be established surrounding Jewish ritual on the compound: delineating what is permissible and what is prohibited, so as to prevent further escalation.
- Assigning a role to the Waqf guards (whose duties relating to Jewish activities on the mound have been rendered hollow) alongside the police, in order to redeem their honor in the eyes of the Muslim population.
The study was conducted in collaboration with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom
Cover photo by: Baruch Gian