Israeli MP suggests dividing Al-Aqsa Mosque

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  June 8, 2023

Amit Halevi tells Israeli newspaper that Jordan’s authority over Al-Aqsa should be removed.

An Israeli lawmaker has suggested a plan to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque between Jews and Muslims, sparking major concerns from Palestinians who have long held fears of the holy site being split up.

Amit Halevi, an MP with the governing Likud party, outlined his plan in an interview with the Hebrew-language newspaper Zeman Israel, in which he called for giving Muslims the southern end of the compound, while the rest would be left for Jews, including the area where the Dome of the Rock is located.

Halevi also suggested that Jordan’s administration of Al-Aqsa be removed.

The Hashemite royal family of Jordan are custodians of both the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa, and dates back to an agreement made during the British mandate of Palestine.

“If they pray there, it does not make the entire Temple Mount a holy place for Muslims. It wasn’t and it won’t be,” Halevi said, using the Jewish term Temple Mount to refer to Al-Aqsa.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, which lies on a raised plateau that Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, is an Islamic site where unsolicited visits, prayers and rituals by non-Muslims are forbidden according to decades-long international agreements. 

Israeli groups, in coordination with authorities, have long violated the delicate arrangement and facilitated raids of the site and performed prayers and religious rituals.

“We will take the northern end and pray there. The entire mountain is sacred to us, and the Dome of the Rock is the place on which the Temple stood. This should be our guideline. Israel is leading. It will be a historical, religious and national statement,” Halevi said.

Halevi also seeks to change the access procedures for Jews visiting Al-Aqsa, demanding that Jews be allowed to enter the compound through all the other gates, rather than only through the southwestern Moroccan Gate (Bab al-Magharba), the only gate out of the mosque’s 15 entry points under the full control of Israeli authorities which no Palestinians can access.

Last September, Israeli ultra-nationalists stormed into Al-Aqsa via the Lions’ Gate (Bab al-Asbat), the first time they entered the courtyards of the mosque from the gate since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967.

Many Palestinians worry that allowing settlers to enter through different gates signals a move towards expanding Israeli control over the mosque and changing the status quo.

“This is the place of the First Temple and the place of the Second Temple built by Babylonian immigrants. No one needs to examine the stones to know that it is ours,” he said.

“There are mosques in the south of the mountain and we respect that. Pray there and give us our share.”

Israeli incursions into Al-Aqsa

The proposed plan was met with rejection by Palestinians who said it would “drag the region into the furnace of a religious war”.

The Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine said in a statement that the plan must be “stopped and confronted”.

Palestinians have long feared that the groundwork is being laid to divide the complex between Jews and Muslims, just like Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron/Al-Khalil was split in the 1990s.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of Israeli incursions into Al-Aqsa. Dozens of people join the incursions, with the number rising to hundreds on Jewish holidays, such as Passover, Purim, Jerusalem Day, and others. For example, on Jerusalem Day in 2018, more than 1,600 settlers raided the mosque.

In 2009, 5,658 settlers entered the mosque in such incursions. In 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic, the number rose to 30,000, according to some estimates.

Palestinians say the incursions are an attempt by ultra-nationalists to claim religious ownership of the holy site and remove Palestinian culture and religion from Al-Aqsa.

To stop the incursions, Palestinians have long organized religious sit-ins where worshippers gather in the mosque for extended hours and even days.