An Israeli court on Wednesday, October 6, ruled that Jews can perform silent prayers inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, drawing condemnation and anger from Palestinians and Arabs in the region. A judge from the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court ruled that Jewish prayer at the mosque cannot be considered a “criminal act” if it remains silent as it would not be in violation of police instructions. The ruling came during a hearing in a case filed by a Rabbi challenging a police ban on his visits and prayers in the compound. Historically, Jews are allowed entry into the compound but are not allowed to pray there, in accordance with an agreement between Israel and the Jordanian-administered Jerusalem Islamic Waqf.
The court’s decision immediately drew strong criticism from various Palestinian and Arab governmental and regional bodies. The Palestinian foreign ministry denounced the ruling, saying that it is an “unprecedented decision… constitutes a flagrant aggression against the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque.” The Palestinian ministry of religious affairs also described it as a “new war crime to be added to the series of crimes committed by the Israeli occupation’s so-called judicial system against the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.” Gaza-based Palestinian resistance group Hamas said that the ruling amounts to “a step on the path of the temporal and spatial division of the mosque, which is a flagrant violation of all human laws and norms.”
The Jordanian government stressed that only the Waqf holds the legal authority to conduct the affairs of the Al-Aqsa mosque and slammed the ruling as a “serious violation of the historical and legal status of al-Aqsa Mosque.” The regional Arab League in its response called the move “dangerous” which ultimately seeks to divide the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and reduce Palestinian presence. Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, said that the court’s decision, as well as the Israeli policies on the ground, carry the risk of hurting Palestinian religious sentiments, which could lead to protests and resistance from Palestinians and violence and repression from Israel. He urged the international community to put pressure on Israel and ensure that the legal and historical status of the city of Jerusalem remains unchanged.
The Israeli state, in cohort with right-wing fanatical Jewish groups, has for decades tried to seize control of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and banish Palestinians altogether. Many extremist and far-right settler Jews believe the site to be the location of the mythical third Jewish temple known as the Temple Mount, and have repeatedly called for the demolition of the mosque for the construction of the temple.
There have been regular instances of raids and invasions of the mosque compound by Jewish far-right groups consisting of hundreds of extremist settlers and fanatical Jews accompanied by Israeli security forces protecting them. On several occasions, they have desecrated the compound with provocative and religiously offensive slogans, indulged in banned prayers, and incited violent clashes with the Palestinian worshipers, resulting in injuries and even death. Israeli authorities have also imposed severe restrictions on Palestinians worshiping at the mosque during such raids, at times completely banning their entry into the compound based on age and gender. Israeli security forces install multiple checkpoints and security barriers to harass and intimidate Palestinians trying to gain entry into the compound, in contrast to the manner in which they facilitate visits by Jewish extremist groups and also actively participate in the violent attacks on unarmed Palestinians during clashes. One such raids in May this year was met with strong Palestinian collective resistance. Israel then used this as a pretext to launch airstrikes on Gaza for 11 continuous days, killing over 250 Palestinians, including more than 65 children, and injuring approximately 2,200 others.