Israel threatens to arrest new security guards at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque

Mustafa Abu Sneineh

Middle East Eye  /  January 10, 2022

Al-Aqsa urgently needs more security to oversee the sacred compound and maintain crowd safety during Muslim prayers.

Israeli authorities have blocked the appointment of new Palestinian security guards at the Al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City, threatening Palestine’s Jerusalem Islamic Waqf with arrest if they refuse to comply.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the mosque’s veteran Palestinian imam, said that the Waqf, a religious trust that administers the Al-Aqsa compound, needs new guards as there have been no new appointees to oversee the sacred esplanade since 2017.

Usually, the Waqf nominates a list of names of guards and sends it to Jordan’s Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs for approval. Jordan acts as a custodian of the sacred compound in Jerusalem as part of a joint agreement with Israel.

However, this time Israeli authorities have objected to the procedure, saying that the Waqf in Jerusalem should run the list by them first before final approval of the new security staff.

The Waqf urgently needs new security to oversee the compound and maintain the safety of crowds during Muslim prayers.

It has refused to comply with the Israeli request, saying that Tel Aviv has no say or sovereignty over matters inside the Al-Aqsa compound.

Sabri said that Israel’s internal intelligence, the Shin Bet, will be tasked with examining the list, and that it threatened to arrest the new guards if its demands were not met.

According to Sabri, guard numbers at Al-Aqsa have diminished in the past year, due to death, retirement or resignation.

He said Israel’s actions were an attempt to impose “sovereignty over Al-Aqsa and end the role of the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem… Israel considers itself as the guardian of Al-Aqsa and above Jordan in the matter of appointments.”

New guards to begin work

Israel maintains a security presence at Al-Aqsa’s gates, with members of its military police standing behind metal barriers, occasionally examining Palestinian IDs before deciding whether or not to allow them to enter the compound.

Israel has full control over the Morrocan Gate, in the southwest corner of Al-Aqsa compound, which leads to the Western Plaza, a holy site in Judaism.

Omar al-Kiswani, the Al-Aqsa mosque manager, told Jordan’s Radio Al-Balad that Jordan’s ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of Awqaf are aware of the issue, but declined to comment further.

Kiswani said the Islamic Waqf is expecting the new guards to start their roles in the next 24 hours.

Middle East Eye contacted a spokesperson from Jordan’s foreign affairs ministry for comment.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980, in a move unrecognized by the majority of the international community.

The Old City of Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa complex remain the most sensitive components of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mustafa Abu Sneineh – journalist, poet and staff writer at Middle East Eye