Al-Jazeera / January 17, 2023
The incident reflected heightened sensitivity about Al-Aqsa compound under Israel’s new ultranationalist government.
Jordan has summoned the Israeli ambassador to protest police obstruction of the country’s envoy during his visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Jordanian foreign ministry said the Israeli envoy was handed “a strongly-worded letter of protest to be delivered immediately to his government”.
The letter included a reminder that the Jordan-run Jerusalem Waqf Department is the exclusive authority supervising holy sites in Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, the statement said.
“Israel, as an occupying power, must adhere to its obligations under international law and the international humanitarian law towards the occupied city of Jerusalem and its sanctities, especially the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque,” ministry spokesman Sinan Majali said.
Israel must “put a stop to attempts to change the historic status quo” in occupied Jerusalem, he added.
According to witnesses, the Jordanian ambassador Ghassan Majali was stopped by Israeli police at the Lion’s Gate (Bab al-Asbat), at the northern side of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and prevented from entering the site on claims of lack of coordination.
The site, sitting on a sprawling plateau also home to the iconic golden Dome of the Rock, is revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif) and by Jews as the Temple Mount.
The Israeli police, for its part, said that Majali arrived at the holy site “without any prior coordination with police officials”, prompting an officer at the compound entrance who did not recognize the diplomat to notify his commander about the unexpected visit. While awaiting instructions, officers held up Majali, along with Azzam al-Khatib, the director of the Jerusalem Waqf. The ambassador refused to wait and decided to leave, Israeli police said.
“Had the ambassador briefly waited a few more minutes for the officer to be updated, the group would have entered,” the police said, stressing that “coordination” with Israeli police was routine before such visits.
Al-Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said that the incident goes to the heart of Jordan and Israel’s relationship when it comes to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
“There is something called the status quo – an agreement effectively that allows the Jordanians to be custodians of that compound,” he said. “They say they do not need Israeli police permission to enter the site.”
Footage widely shared online shows Majali, among other Muslim worshippers, at the limestone Lion’s Gate entrance to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City. An Israeli police officer blocks his path and yells at Majali in Arabic to go back, according to the video. Al-Khatib gets on the phone as the visitors argue with the officers amid the crackle of the policeman’s walkie-talkie.
Some two hours later, Jordanian state-run media reported that Majali finally entered the compound without showing any kind of permission and held talks with Al-Khatib, who “briefed him about the Israeli violations in Al-Aqsa”.
Jordan has described the move as an unusual provocation, and said Jordanian officials do not need permission to enter the site because of the country’s role as the official custodian. The kingdom has also cautioned Israel against taking “any actions that would prejudice the sanctity of the holy places”.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli foreign ministry.
Tuesday marked the second time that Jordan has summoned the Israeli ambassador to Amman since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right and religiously conservative government took power. Earlier this month, Israel’s minister of national security, the ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited the Jerusalem holy site despite threats from Hamas and a cascade of condemnations from across the Arab world.
Jordan has been the official custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem since 1924, and was publicly acclaimed as the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third-holiest site. Jews, for their part, call the area the Temple Mount, saying it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980, in a move never recognized by the international community.
Israeli police ‘block’ Jordanian envoy from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque
Middle East Eye / January 17, 2023
Amman sends ‘strong letter of protest’ to the Israeli government amid fears of undermining Jordanian authority in the site.
Israeli forces held up Jordan’s ambassador to Israel at an entrance to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on Tuesday, prompting condemnation from Amman.
Ghassan Majali was stopped at Bab al-Asbat (Lions’ Gate), leading to the mosque, and asked to present permission to visit the site.
The envoy then left in protest, according to Palestinian media reports.
Israeli police said they didn’t refuse Majali from entering, according to the Times of Israel.
It explained that the officer at the scene did not recognize Majali and was asking his commander for clarification, causing the delay.
Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam, is under the custodianship of Jordan.
Amman has recently warned that Israel, under the new far right-influenced government, is attempting to change the status quo at the site.
The Jordanian foreign ministry said it called Israel’s ambassador in Amman for talks over the incident on Tuesday.
“We have delivered a strong letter of protest to the ambassador to relay to his government,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The Jordanian government condemns any measures aimed at interfering in the affairs of Al-Aqsa Mosque,” it added.
Jordanian MP Khalil Attiyah called the “blocking” of Majali from entering Al-Aqsa a “provocation”.
“This is a provocative aggression and a direct assault on the custodianship of Jordan, it’s a dangerous precedent,” he said.
As part of a decades-old understanding between Israel and Jordan – the custodian of Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem – the affairs of the mosque are meant to be the sole responsibility of the Waqf, a joint Jordanian-Palestinian Islamic trust.
Under the agreement, commonly referred to as the status quo, Muslims should be allowed to enter the mosque without restrictions while non-Muslims can visit after approval from the Waqf.
Israeli authorities have repeatedly violated provisions of the agreement and facilitated visits by settlers and ultranationalists without the Waqf’s approval.
Israeli police have been recently accused of turning a blind eye to Jewish prayer taking place in the courtyards of the mosque, in what Palestinians and Jordanians warn is a dangerous violation of the status quo.
Also on Tuesday, the Waqf-appointed director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, was stopped by Israeli police at one of the entrances and was briefly questioned and searched.
Earlier this month, Israeli police summoned Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, Al-Aqsa Mosque’s imam, for interrogations.
Members of the Netanyahu-led government have advocated for sweeping changes to the status quo since coming to power, causing diplomatic tensions.
On 3 January, Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque and called for Jews to have the same rights that Muslims enjoy on the site.
His visit caused widespread outrage and prompted a UN Security Council meeting.
When Jordanian King Abdullah II was asked last month if he felt Israel’s new government threatened the status quo in Jerusalem and the Hashemite custodianship, he said “If people want to get into a conflict with us, we are quite prepared.
“We have set red lines and if people want to push those red lines, then we will deal with that.”
Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Waqf, told Middle East Eye last year that Israel is “working seriously” to change the status quo, which could cause a “religious war”.
“It is preventing the work of the mosque. There are many security barriers on the perimeters. Israeli security forces are all over Al-Aqsa and all over the courtyard. They can prevent anyone they want from entering. They detain Muslims. They have stopped more than 20 major projects.”
“Al-Aqsa has been grabbed by an iron fist,” Al-Khatib continued: “God forbid if Israel changes the status quo. That would lead to a religious war that would extend far beyond Al-Aqsa Mosque.”