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February 25, 2019 9:00 am

The Golden Gate: A New Focus of Tension on the Temple Mount

avatar by Yoni Ben Menachem / JNS.org

Opinion

An aerial view of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgThe new Muslim Waqf council on the Temple Mount intends to revamp the Golden Gate, or “Gate of Mercy,” and use it as a place of prayer.

This is a flagrant violation of the status quo and an apparent provocation as part of the Jordanian-Palestinian plan to torpedo President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century.”

The new Islamic Waqf Council on the Temple Mount, headed by Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab, is striving to change the status quo there. The council was recently expanded from 11 to 18 members, to include officials from the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah movement. The council includes senior members of both entities, particularly Adnan al-Husseini, the PA minister for Jerusalem affairs.

Fatah officials say that the battle against Israel on the Temple Mount will escalate towards the expected release of President Trump’s Mideast peace plan.

On February 19, Sheikh Salhab told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency of the council’s intention to renovate the Golden Gate structure within the Temple Mount plaza, and to re-open it as a place of prayer for Muslims, as well as Waqf offices:

This place should not remain neglected; we do not recognize the occupation’s decisions in connection with it. The Gate of Mercy is part of Al-Aqsa, and the mosque is a red line. No Muslim can relinquish even a grain of its sand.

Several members of the new Salhab-led Waqf council paid a visit to the Gate of Mercy structure on the Temple Mount in mid-February, following clashes between Palestinians and the Israel police on the site. The police sent in a large force that arrested seven rioters and blocked entry to the Temple Mount.

The rioting stemmed from the Muslim Waqf’s attempt to change the status quo at the Gate of Mercy by having Muslim worshipers pray in the compound. In response, the police installed steel gates with locks and closed the entrance to the site.

Sheikh Wasaf al-Bakri of the Jordanian Ministry of Religious Endowments stated on the Donia Al-Watan website on February 19 that following talks between the Jordanian government and the Israeli authorities the previous night, it was decided to reinstate the status quo on the site. The next day, the Israeli police removed the gates and locks it had put in place, and released the rioters arrested the day before.

In the morning, Waqf officials arrived on site and placed new gates at the entrance to the Gate of Mercy compound. The Golden Gate is part of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. It consists of two bricked-up openings. The Gate of Mercy is the sole gate within the wall directly leading to the Temple Mount.

The gate compound consists today of an Islamic study room, the entrance to which can only be accessed from the Temple Mount. The gate and its adjacent compound have been closed since 2003 by court order. Following the metal detector crisis on the Temple Mount in 2017, the closure of the site was extended until further notice.

Palestinian propaganda claims that Israel wants to build a synagogue in the Golden Gate compound. In an editorial on February 20, the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper claimed that putting up gates by the police constitutes a step in Israel’s plan to divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslims and Jews in terms of place and prayer times.

“Ever since Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Israel has been racing to Judaize Jerusalem and divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the way to its removal and the establishment of the Temple in its place,” the article claims.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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