Is Jordan really the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites ?

Motasem A. Dalloul

Middle East Monitor  /  January 19, 2023

Israeli occupation forces detained the Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, as he entered the Noble Sanctuary on Tuesday. He was humiliated and searched before being allowed to enter the Islamic holy site.

Last week, the Israeli occupation forces delayed Britain’s Minister for the Middle East, Lord Tariq Ahmad, for more than half an hour while he was visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque. The minister was subjected to a prolonged security check at the Lions Gate (Bab al-Asbat).

The occupation state went further on Wednesday when it prevented Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque, claiming that there had been no coordination for his visit. Witnesses saw Israeli military policy surrounding Majali as his bodyguards tried to prevent them from touching the ambassador and clear the way for him, but the police insisted on turning him back.

In response, Amman summoned the Israeli ambassador to protest against the humiliation of its ambassador. Jordanian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Sinan Majali said that a “strongly-worded letter of protest” was handed to the Israeli ambassador “to be delivered immediately to his government.”

He stated that the letter made it clear that “the Kingdom condemns all measures aimed at unacceptable interference in the affairs of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and reminds Israel that the Jordan-run Jerusalem Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Affairs Department has the exclusive authority to administer the holy site’s affairs and manage entries to the site.”

Majali noted that the letter stressed how important it is that, “Israel, as an occupying power, must adhere to its commitments under international law… regarding Jerusalem and its holy sites and Al-Aqsa Mosque in particular.” The letter pointed out that Jordan is the official and internationally-recognized custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem.

This may be true in terms of the letter of the law, but the reality on the ground is very different. I report almost every day on Israeli violations against the Palestinian people and their land and property, as well as the holy sites “under Jordanian custodianship”. From what I observe, I can say that Jordan is under the power of the Israeli occupation and has nothing to do with Jerusalem. It has not even been able to protect its own national honour and dignity there, as the incident with the ambassador demonstrated.

Since it swept the Jordanians out of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has had the upper hand over the people, land and holy sites in the occupied territory, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place on earth for all Muslims, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most sacred sites for Christians.

As the occupying power, apartheid Israel has an obligation under international law to maintain the status quo in occupied Jerusalem until the determination of its final status through peaceful negotiations. That status quo arose out of the events of 1948 onwards.

In 1948, Zionist terror gangs occupied West Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods, taking 85 per cent of the city. Jordan controlled the Old City and some neighbourhoods and villages, amounting to 11 per cent. The remaining 4 per cent was regarded as no man’s land where the UN placed its headquarters. According to the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, Jerusalem was supposed to be an international city.

Following the creation of the occupation state, Israel declared West Jerusalem to be its capital and Jordan annexed East Jerusalem to the West Bank, which was under its control. Both acted in defiance of the UN partition resolution.

In 1967, Israel occupied the rest of Palestine, including the Gaza Strip, which had been controlled by Egypt, and the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The occupation state duly annexed East Jerusalem and extended its sovereignty over all of the holy city. That annexation has never been recognized in international law.

Indeed, according to international law, Israel is a belligerent occupier of the territories beyond the acknowledged borders in place at the beginning of June, 1967, which were based on the 1949 Armistice (“Green”) Line. As such, it is obliged, according to the UN and legal experts, to act according to international humanitarian law in the occupied territories.

Article 4 and 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prevents belligerent occupiers from annexing the occupied territories or imposing its sovereignty over them. The status quo mentioned above must be maintained.

Jordanian custodianship followed the decision in 1924 of the Supreme Muslim Council, the highest Muslim body in charge of Muslim community affairs in Mandatory Palestine, to choose Hussein Bin Ali, grandfather of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, to be custodian of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Custodianship became a Hashemite legacy administered by consecutive Jordanian monarchs.

In 1994, when Jordan signed a peace deal with the Israeli occupation state, the treaty recognized Jordan’s role as custodian of Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. In 2013, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II signed an agreement to “defend Jerusalem and its holy sites”. The agreement between Abbas and Abdullah confirmed the 1924 decision to choose the Hashemites as custodians of Jerusalem.

However, Israel has no respect for international laws and agreements. If the international community does nothing to rein-in the occupation state, and the UN Security Council is not willing to implement Chapter 7 of the UN Charter (“Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace…”), why does Jordan not take serious measures to protect Al-Aqsa Mosque and its own custodianship in the holy city?

Israel allows its extreme far-right ministers and illegal settlers to invade Al-Aqsa Mosque with impunity, and now it has stopped a Jordanian ambassador from entering the Noble Sanctuary. What else can we expect to see? Sadly, I see the total occupation of the holy city by Israel. It has already declared that Jerusalem is the “undivided” capital of the state, de facto annexation has already happened. With the helpless UN watching on, Israel shows its contempt for Jordan, the Palestinians and international law knowing full well that it too can act with impunity.

“All decisions regarding the Temple Mount [Al Aqsa Mosque] and Jerusalem will be made by the Israeli government,” said the then Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last year. “It holds sovereignty over the city, without any foreign considerations. We certainly reject any foreign interference in the decisions of the Israeli government. A united Jerusalem is the capital of only one state – the State of Israel.”

Jordan has done nothing to protect its historic custodianship over the Islamic and Christian holy sites in the city of Jerusalem, so is the Hashemite Kingdom really the custodian today? In name only, perhaps it is, but the reality on the ground tells a completely different story.

Motasem A. Dalloul is MEMO’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip