Custodian of Muslim Holy Sites Slams Israeli Politicians Over Temple Mount Remarks

The Waqf warns the newly formed Knesset caucus that a change in the status quo on the Mount could ignite the Muslim world.

An ultra-Orthodox man looks at the Western Wall and the wooden ramp leading up to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, December 12, 2011.
Ronen Zvulun, Reuters

The Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem, which administers the Temple Mount, responded angrily on Tuesday to statements by Israeli ministers and MKs in favor of changing the status quo on the Mount, warning that any such change could inflame the entire Muslim world.

It also urged the international community to intervene to prevent any changes in the status quo, under which Jewish prayer is barred entirely on the Mount and Jewish visits to the site are strictly limited.

The Waqf — which is the custodian of Muslim holy sites — was responding to an event at the Knesset on Monday at which three ministers and three Knesset members launched a Temple Mount caucus to push for changing the status quo on the Mount.

In its statement on Tuesday, the Waqf accused the Israeli government of embracing and encouraging radical groups that seek to undermine the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is located on the Mount.

“We warn the Israeli government against taking steps that will harm the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its sanctity, since this site is sacred to 1.7 billion believers throughout the world,” it said. “The Israeli government bears responsibility for statements by ministers and Knesset members calling for a change in the historical and legal status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and for the ongoing incitement against the holy compound.”

It also urged international agencies, first and foremost the United Nations, to take any action necessary to stop Israel’s “aggressive policy” against Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Finally, it urged Arab and Muslim governments to take a strong stand on the issue, and especially King Abdullah of Jordan, in light of what it termed his role as guardian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

The Temple Mount is Judaism’s most sacred site, but it is also revered by Muslims who regard the spot, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock are located, as their third holiest site.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to raise the issue of the Israeli politicians’ statements about the Mount during his meeting on Wednesday with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordan Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. The two are officially coming to Ramallah for the dedication of a museum named after Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat, a senior PA official said. But they will also discuss political issues with Abbas, including Al-Aqsa, the French initiative for an international peace conference, internal Palestinian tensions and the results of the U.S. elections.

Wasfi al-Kilani, who heads the Hashemite Fund for the Reconstruction of Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, told the Jordanian media on Tuesday that Amman would not consent to any change in the status quo on the Mount, noting that King Abdullah had said as much in a speech to parliament earlier in the week. “Despite all the challenges facing us, we’ll continue to fulfill our duty to guard the sites holy to Islam and Christianity and the identity of the holy city,” Abdullah said, referring to Jerusalem.

Al-Kilani said that Monday’s statements by Israeli politicians reflect what he termed an Israeli policy of seeking to gain full control over the Mount. He also deemed them a response to a recent UNESCO decision that effectively ignored Jewish ties to the Mount by referring to it only by its Arabic name, Haram al-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”).

But Al-Kilani claimed that Israel had misrepresented the UNESCO decision. It didn’t actually deny the Jews’ historic ties to the site, he asserted, but merely described the situation as it is today.