During the last decade, there has been an escalation of Israeli violations of the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound. Following a campaign of incitement led by members of the Israeli Government and funded by both the State of Israel and a number of foreign non-governmental organizations, thousands of extremists have attempted to change the status quo of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound.
Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound not only represents one of the holiest Muslim sites of Palestine but one of the few places where Palestinians are relatively free in the occupied Palestinian capital. With a right- wing extremist Israeli government focusing on turning a political question into a religious conflict, the attacks on the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound occur hand in hand with calls are being made for recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. Deliberate conflations of the issue of sovereignty with religious claims to Holy sites, on the part of the Israeli government, further exacerbates an already severely tense situation.
Sacred to approximately 1.7 billion Muslims around the world, and a symbol for all Palestinians, Al- Aqsa Mosque compound / Haram al-Sharif contains the Al Qibli mosque, Dome of the Rock, ablution fountains, open spaces for prayer, and monuments. This entire area, enclosed by walls, spans 144 dunums (almost 36 acres) and forms Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
The mosque is a Muslim property owned by all Muslims and under the custodianship and the administrative jurisdiction of the Islamic Waqf of the Jordanian Ministry of Sacred Properties. Territorially, the mosque extends down to the center of the earth and up into the airspace above it.
The Status Quo agreement concerning the Muslim custodianship of the Compound, has existed in one form or another since 1852. Initiated under Ottoman rule, the status quo was again confirmed during the British Mandate in 1930. In 1967, during its wider occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel forcibly seized control of al-Buraq Wall (Western Wall) and destroyed al-Mughrabi Quarter, including two mosques and 135 homes, leaving 650 Palestinian Muslims homeless, with the objective to create a large plaza in front of the Wall for Jewish worshippers.1
Since then, and despite repeated commitments to respect the status quo, consecutive Israeli governments continue to carry out armed assaults against the Compound, thus undermining the status quo.
The following is an outline of the status quo arrangement since Israel’s military occupation of East Jerusalem:
- Any excavations or maintenance of Al Aqsa mosque are to be carried out by the Islamic Waqf.
- Tourists (non-Muslims) of all nationalities and religions are allowed into the mosque compound provided that they follow the rules to which all tourists to mosques must adhere. As such, non-Muslims are not permitted to pray in the compound and any visits to Al Aqsa mosque must be agreed to and coordinated by the Islamic Waqf. While Muslims can enter any time, the Islamic Waqf has set aside three hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon for tourist visits.
- The only entrance to Al Aqsa mosque through which Israelis are permitted to enter is Al-Magharbeh Gate, located in the center of the Buraq Wall, whereas Muslims may enter Al Aqsa mosque through all gates. As for tourists, it was agreed that they would be permitted entry through three gates: the Al-Magharbeh Gate, the Chain Gate, and the Cotton Merchant’s Gate.
- Israeli police are to be posted outside the gates surrounding the compound. Waqf guards are to be posted inside the gates surrounding the compound and are to assume responsibility inside the compound.
There has been an ever increasing Israeli control over and status within Al Aqsa Mosque compound. Conversely, the new Israeli defined ‘status quo’ has greatly degraded the status of Muslims and Palestinians in the compound.
- Israeli Police are now stationed inside Al Aqsa compound, controlling the mosque, and limiting Palestinian entry, prohibiting collectively Muslims under the age of 45 from entering or praying inside the mosque. Israel has even gone so far as to close the compound to all Palestinians. The acts are in express violation of the freedom of worship and expression.
- Israeli police only allow tourists (non-Muslims) entrance through Al-Magharbeh Gate without any agreement or coordination with the Islamic Waqf.
- Israeli police have even enacted enforcement measures pertaining to planning, construction, and antiquities in the Compound. The Israeli Government, through the Israeli Antiquities Authorities are threatening the integrity of this sacred site through their excavations.
- The Israeli Government, through the Israeli police in Occupied East Jerusalem, has allowed the illegal Israeli settler leaders, along with other Israeli extremists, to invade Al Aqsa compound escorted by Israeli Police.
- Many settler leaders continue to incite against this sacred site, and consequently provoke Palestinian fears, anger and emotions. The Israeli government has allowed settler extremists from entering the mosque, constituting yet another infringement of the Waqf’s custodianship and a violation of Israel’s obligation as an occupying power to maintain public order and civil life in the occupied territory.
The Israeli decision to close Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound to Palestinian Muslims in response to a recent incident outside its gates, which resulted in the death of two Israeli policemen and the injury of a third, is very dangerous, as it represents a unilateral change in the status quo of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound.
The closure of Al-Aqsa Mosque lasted for 48 hours. The Israeli authorities closed the entrances of the Old City of Jerusalem, preventing Palestinians from entering or leaving the city. The iron fences were placed around the gates of the Old City. The preliminary estimates, according to the director of the Jerusalem Waqf, that 60 bridges of gates and wells have been destroyed. It is not known if Israeli authorities have planted surveillance cameras or any other devices, or seized any documents.
Following the Israeli authorities’ decision to partially re-open the Compound to Palestinians, the keys to the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound were handed back to the Islamic Waqf, after installing electronic gates on Al Asbat, Al Majles (An Nather), Silsileh Gates while closing off the rest of the gates. Waqf employees refused to enter through these gates, and they continued to gather at the entrances of the Aqsa Mosque gates.
Jerusalem’s Old City is an integral part of Occupied East Jerusalem. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the occupying power shall take measures to protect the religious rights of those they occupy. Further, numerous UN Resolutions have been passed specifically reiterating international law regarding religious rights and barring Israel from taking any measures changing the status of holy places in Jerusalem, and deploring the desecration of Al-Aqsa.2
Despite the fact that Israel has been insistently trying to change the status quo of the occupied city since 1967, the international community has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian capital. Security Council Resolutions 476 and 478 state in relevant sections:
“[A]ll legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of...[and] all such measures which have altered the geographic, demographic and historical character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council[.]”3
Israeli attempts at changing the status quo on Al-Aqsa are an attempt to change the status of the whole city. It is linked also to restrictions to freedom of worship imposed on Palestinian Christians and other Israeli policies aimed at forcibly displacing Palestinians from their homeland, a crime against humanity under international law.4
Moreover, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) enshrines the right of freedom of religion for all. Israeli actions at Al Aqsa Mosque Compound constitute a violation of human dignity and a collective punishment on the freedom of worship and freedom of movement.
Finally, Israel’s attempt to effectively and illegally annex Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish people” reflects a systematic Israeli policy of Judaizing Jerusalem, thereby changing the historical significance of the land and negating any non-Jewish claims to the city.
Israeli closures of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound are not isolated events but part of a larger Israeli well- structured policy to appropriate Occupied East Jerusalem as an exclusively Jewish-only city. Attacks on the rights of Palestinians to worship freely, both Christians and Muslims, cannot be separated from other policies such as settlement expansion, home demolitions, evictions, and the impunity granted to occupation forces and illegal settlers who attack Palestinian residents on a daily basis. Such systematic and provocative actions in occupied Jerusalem threaten any prospects of a peaceful solution agreed to between Palestine and Israel.
The State of Palestine requires protection for the Palestinian people under occupation and for each state to assume its responsibility under international law and the return to pre-September 2000 arrangements with regard to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound. Sanctions must be imposed on Israel for the ongoing violations to international law, including the right to worship.
We call upon states to demand that Israel cease its policies that provokes violence and creates unrest. Israel must also respect the Waqf’s custodianship over the entire Al Aqsa Compound and the Palestinians’ right to free access to the Compound. Furthermore, we call upon states and civil society to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation, including taking action against certain Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that promote hate-speech, incitement and the colonization of Occupied Palestine, particularly in and around Jerusalem’s Old City.