Some Israeli lawmakers want to allow Jews to pray at an Islamic holy site in Jerusalem, a contentious proposal that is opposed by Middle Eastern leaders and could stroke tensions between Jews and Muslims in the Israel. Israel Parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein joined three cabinet ministers and three lawmakers Monday to demand Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “open the gates” to the religious complex and rescind a year-long ban on Israeli lawmakers from visiting the site, the Times of Israel reported.
The lawmakers want to create a new “Temple Mount Lobby” in the Israeli Knesset to lead the effort. Their policy proposal came as Israeli citizens, activists and politicians gathered at the Knesset-hosted Seekers of Zion conference Monday called the religious known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Al-Aqsa be open for Jewish prayer. The compound sits on top of the Western Wall in Jerusalem and is considered to be Judaism’s holist site.
“When we can say the Temple Mount is ours and only ours and there isn’t room there for anyone else, then we can be victorious in Amona, then we can conquer not only the Temple Mount but Jordan, and Syria, too, and establish a real Jewish state over all the land of Israel,” Rafael Morris, who started and is the leader of the “Return to the Mount” movement that has the eventual goal of building a Jewish temple on the actual Temple Mount complex, said during the conference about the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Under an agreement with Jordan, which has had custodian rights over Al-Aqsa since Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War, worshipers of the Jewish faith wishing to pray at the the Temple Mount complex can do so in the Western Wall plaza, but not in the Al-Aqsa mosque itself.
Netanyahu had banned visits from Israeli authorities from entering the Al-Aqsa mosque as part of an arrangement with Jordan’s King Abdullah II Bin Al-Hussein in response to an outbreak of Palestinian attacks in Eastern Jeruselum last year. Netanyahu authorized the Israeli Knesset on Sept. 18 to extend that yearlong ban.
Gilad Erdan, Isreal’s public security minister, said this week “the current status quo discriminates against the Jewish people.” But he also conceded that Netanyahu’s ban may have limited the “violence and harassment” Jewish worshippers allegedly experienced from Muslims at the site, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The move by Israeli officials followed a series of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization resolutions in October that decreed that the Temple Mount complex was an exclusively Muslim place of worship, erasing possible Jewish and Christian roots to the historical site.
In its statement Tuesday, The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, an organization that regulates the status of Muslim holy sites in Israel, accused the Israeli government of encouraging the radical views of some right-wing Jewish groups seeking to undermine the international status that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was recently rewarded, Haaretz reported.
“We warn the Israeli government against taking steps that will harm the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its sanctity, since this site is sacred to 1.7 billion believers throughout the world,” The Waqf said through its statement. “The Israeli government bears responsibility for statements by ministers and Knesset members calling for a change in the historical and legal status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and for the ongoing incitement against the holy compound.”