On Sunday, the Waqf (Islamic authority) held an emergency meeting concerning the Temple Mount. At the meeting, the Waqf extended the ban on Muslims praying at the silver-domed Al Aqsa Mosque and the gold-domed Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine built on the site of the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temples. 

The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf is an Islamic religious trust controlled by Jordan that manages the Islamic sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.  

Following the meeting, the Waqf threatened the Israeli government, saying that if Jews continue to tour the area surrounding the structures, they will open the gates and allow Muslims to enter en masse. This will be in direct violation of Health Ministry regulation requiring social distancing and will endanger the Palestinians who come to the site. 

The Waqf declared that even though it will result from their orders, the responsibility will be on the Israeli government.

The Waqf claimed the decision to reopen Al Aqsa is not influenced by religious feeling or by pressure on the Waqf management, but rather by religious, national, and moral responsibility, following the advice of the relevant health sources.

The Waqf acknowledged that some of the worshipers may be carriers of the coronavirus and that thousands will be infected if the area is opened.

The move comes after an unprecedented decision by the Waqf two months ago to close the two structures on the Temple Mount pursuant to pandemic restrictions which limited the number of individuals allowed to congregate in a closed area to ten.

The Waqf then insisted that in order to carry out the order, the Israeli government need to exclude Jews entirely from the site. It should be noted that Muslims enter the Temple Mount via eleven gates with no security measure hindering them. Jews are only permitted to enter via the Mughrabi gate after rigorous background and security checks. Jews are limited to small groups, do not mingle with the Muslims, and are restricted from entering the structures. There is no reason why Jews visiting the site should affect the Waqf carrying ou the Health Ministry regulations. 

It should also be noted that despite Jews still being entirely restricted from entering the Temple Mount, the Waqf continues to allow many Muslims to enter under the pretense of being Waqf employees. 

Last week, the Jerusalem High Court of Justice ruled in favor of a petition brought by Arnon Segal and Yehuda Etzion demanding the Israeli government respond to claims they cut a secret deal with Jordan in which Jews would be excluded from the Temple Mount. The petition noted that banning Jews while allowing Arabs was unconstitutional thus rendering such an agreement with Jordan illegal. The petition also noted that allowing the Waqf staff onto the Temple Mount during the lockdown contravenes Health Ministry regulations. 

Segal is a journalist and claimed that barring him entry to the site violates freedom of the press. 

The court ordered the Israeli government to respond by Monday but that was extended until Wednesday.

“Despite the Waqf declarations, it is the Israeli government that is preventing Jews from ascending to the Temple Mount,” Segal told Breaking Israel News. “The Waqf is threatening to react to any attempts by the Israeli government to allow Jews to enter the site.”

Segal emphasized that even before the outbreak of the epidemic, the manner in which Jews toured the site constituted social distancing and was limited to small groups in open areas. 

“There is no reason that should not be permitted even now,” Segal stated. “Restricting Jews is, in effect, rewarding the violators of the law.”

Segal believes that the Israeli government is planning on restricting Jews until after the culmination of the month of Ramadan in on May 23. The Muslim prayers on the Temple Mount are usually attended by tens of thousands in the final days of Ramadan. 

“The government will restrict the Jews in the hopes that the Waqf will restrain the Muslims from arriving en masse which would be an unmitigated public health catastrophe,” Segal said.

Segal is waiting for the government to respond to the court order but even if there was no secret agreement with Jordan, the restriction of Jews from the Temple Mount os deeply distrubing. 

“The government’s actions concerning the Jews’ religious rights to the Temple Mount are truly disgraceful,” Segal said. “Arrangements were made for Jews to pray at the Western Wall and at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The Temple Mount is the Jews’ holiest site. It is inconceivable that Jews would be entirely prevented from even visiting the site.”