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Jewish visits to Al-Aqsa compound on the rise

Sept. 18, 2015 7:44 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 18, 2015 9:44 P.M.)
Jewish visitors stand outside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem on April 5, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- As the number of Jewish visitors to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem has grown in recent years, so too have their demands for access and over sovereignty.

More than the actual numbers, which are still relatively low, it is the upward trend that is alarming Palestinians along with the statements of Israeli officials, including cabinet ministers.

For the Palestinians, any change in the status of the site -- holy to Muslims and Jews alike -- would be an unthinkable breach of boundaries.

About 10,900 Jews visited the flash point hilltop in 2014, according to Arnon Segal, an activist for the right of Jews to pray where their biblical temples are said to have stood.

In contrast, as many as nearly three million Muslims and 200,000 Christians go there each year, according to official Israeli data.

The number of Jewish visitors last year was double the figure of 2009, says Segal.

He favors the construction of a new temple on the hilltop where the famed golden Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques now stand, an unthinkable prospect for Muslims.

The site is the third-holiest in Islam and believed to be from where Prophet Mohammed made his night ascent to heaven.

It is also a deeply-rooted symbol for the still unrealized Palestinian state, for which Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital.

Jews are currently allowed to visit the esplanade but cannot pray there due to an agreement made between Israel and the Islamic trust that controls the compound following Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Jewish prayer is allowed at the neighboring Western Wall, which is the last remnant of the Second Temple.

Israel's chief rabbinate, which rules on what is consistent with Jewish law, does not contest the site's holiness, but it opposes visits by Jews, as shown by a sign at the compound's only entrance for non-Muslims.

The rabbinate believes that visitors risk treading on the inner sanctum of the old temple whose exact location is unknown.

The issue of Jews visiting the compound has been the subject of theological debate between rabbis since the Romans destroyed the Second Jewish Temple in 70 AD.

A minority of rabbis allow Jews to visit a part of the site, while an even smaller group considers they should visit the site as often as possible as a religious obligation.

According to ancient texts, a synagogue was active on the esplanade during the Middle Ages. But about 400 years ago, Muslim masters banned Jews from entering, says Segal.

A rise of Jewish nationalism has led to more public calls for access and sovereignty including from members of government.

Extremist groups frequently tour the compound under the armed guard of Israeli forces, and Palestinians are often detained or assaulted during such visits.

Both Israel's Culture Minister Miri Regev and Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel have come out in support of the right of Jews to pray in the compound.

"Jews must be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. There is enough room for everybody," Ariel, who favors building a new temple on the site, said when he visited last November.

Temple Mount "belongs to us," the press quoted him as saying in 2013.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
Comments
Joe Fattal / USA
Yes, Jewish visits to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the rise. It is since Netanyahu was re-elected. We didn't see that much of it at least in that magnitude since before netanyahu was re-elected. And its getting worse not of religious conviction a religion that is been re-enveted
18/09/2015 22:10
Joe Fattal / USA
Cont...to fit their political aim, to keep what they got using the first, the second or the third Temple as an excuse.
18/09/2015 22:15
Outlier / USA
So? At least they are peaceful. As for sovereignty, East Jerusalem and al-Aqsa never Palestinian (they were in Jordan, but no more), so Palestinians cannot set policy there.
18/09/2015 22:40
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