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Tensions Flare On Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Over Re-opened ‘Gate of Mercy’
Palestinians worshippers gather before Friday noon prayers last week at the so-called ‘Golden Gate’ in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

Tensions Flare On Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Over Re-opened ‘Gate of Mercy’

Thousands of Palestinian worshippers forced their way into the site which Israel had closed since 2003

With shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great), thousands of Palestinians over the weekend stormed an area of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif—called the Golden Gate or the Gate of Mercy (Bab al-Rahma in Arabic) and declared victory in prying open a site that Israel shuttered in 2003.

Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the Palestinian Fatah Central Committee, praised the takeover, saying it “proves that all Israeli decisions and measures to Judaize Jerusalem have failed.”

The tensions began last week when Palestinian worshipers removed an iron gate to the entrance of the site. In response, the Jerusalem police briefly detained some 60 activists Friday morning and tried to seal the section off again but to no avail.

Israel initially closed the location after allegations that the group managing it had links to Hamas and the banned Islamic Movement of Israel’s Northern Branch. There were also fears on the Israeli side that these groups were planning unspecified “activities” on the complex, such as construction projects to create facts on the ground, effectively altering the status quo agreements reached between Ramallah, Jerusalem and Jordan.

In 1994, Israel agreed to cede administrative control over Islamic edifices on the Temple Mount to Jordanian officials that formed what came to be known as the “Waqf” or Islamic trust.

Earlier this month, the Waqf, which for decades comprised 11 Jordanian officials, added seven more positions to its management committee, including a senior Palestinian Authority (PA) and a Fatah official. Some analysts contend the move is an attempt to further solidify control over Muslim holy shrines ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s soon-to-be-unveiled Middle East peace plan.

In a rare move Sunday, Israel police briefly detained two senior Waqf officials accused of stoking tensions. Jordan strongly condemned the arrests as a “dangerous and serious escalation.”

Dr. Ido Zelkovitz, an expert on Palestinian history and politics and a Policy Fellow at the Mitvim Institute, told The Media Line that the “PA, by and large, wants to centralize the conflict around Jerusalem. This is the right place for Palestinian leaders to apply pressure on Israel, especially given the upcoming Israeli elections, in order to raise up their cause.”

PA officials have been repeating the slogan that Jerusalem has fallen under the threat of “Judification,” meaning that Israel supposedly wants to make the city more Jewish. Under previous agreements, Israeli Jews are only allowed to visit the Temple Mount but cannot pray there.

“As long as there is tension over this area, it is easier for the PA to raise sympathy among the Palestinian people and Arab nations. This sensitive issue also helps Palestinian leaders merge their own national and domestic interests with an Islamic spirit,” Dr. Zelkovitz said.

After Israel recently deducted millions of dollars in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA, the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership is looking for new ways to respond.

“The Waqf is not controlled directly by the PA, but the latter is strong enough to influence it considerably, even to the point of issuing direct orders,” Dr. Zelkovitz continued. By adding some of its members to its administrative body, this is “one of the PA’s ways of letting the world know it has some sovereignty over the Temple Mount.”

Catherine Shakdam, a Middle East political analyst, told The Media Line that both sides of the conflict have become prisoners to their own narratives.

“Israeli and Palestinians are very passionate about these issues, and there is no attempt on either side of being objective and rational. This is why we need to return to principles based in international law, which is the only way to move forward,” she said.

“We ought to go back to some kind of control over these sites by the international community. Otherwise, we will be stuck in this same dynamic. Something has to give. The problem is that many keep looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a zero-sum game, which does not have to be this way,” Shakdam concluded.

The Temple Mount—which is where the biblical Jewish Temples once stood, and is now home to Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock—has become a flashpoint for violence and tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in recent years.

Suspicion that Israel is seeking to alter the status quo has motivated attacks by Palestinians, including multiple car-rammings, stabbings and shootings.

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