TEL AVIV – The chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday lashed back at Jordan’s allegations of Israeli misconduct on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, saying the holy site will not be governed by the rules of Mecca and Medina, the Saudi Arabian cities where entrance is prohibited to non-Muslims.
“The idea that what was done in Saudi Arabia – where two cities holy to Islam, Mecca and Medina, are sites where only Muslims have the right to enter – will be done on the Temple Mount is a distorted idea that we will not let happen,” Likud MK Avi Dichter, who also served as the head of the Shin Bet security agency, said.
“We will respect the sanctity of al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and will stand up for our rights on the Temple Mount.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah II said on Monday his country would defend the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem from what he called “repeated stormings” and “violations and transgressions” by “extremist” Jews, and by opposing attempts “to divide the al-Aqsa Mosque temporally or spatially.”
Abdullah also accused Israel of “blatant attempts to change the status quo in Jerusalem, including its landmarks, heritage and historical identity, as well as attempts to violate the rights of the Arab residents, make their lives difficult and force them to leave, in addition to tampering with Islamic and Christian holy sites.”
Jordan’s Minister of Waqf and Islamic Affairs Wael Arabiya later condemned “vicious” visits to the site by some 200 Jews on Sunday, who were marking the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the two Temples on the same location. Arabiya said “400 Israeli settlers” stormed the site, generating “a blatant challenge to the feelings of Muslims and a clear violation of international law and norms.” He is also reported to have accused the Jews of “assaulting and arresting the [Muslim] worshipers and the talmudic rituals the settlers performed in the mosque.”
Dichter charged the Palestinians with expanding their objection to allowing Jews in the area of the al-Aqsa mosque to include all non-Muslims attempting to visit the entire area.
“Recently there is an intensifying trend called ‘the defense of al-Aqsa.’ This defense has greatly widened from the mosque in the southern portion of the Temple Mount; now they are talking about the entire area of the Temple Mount. Israel will not lend a hand to this,” Dichter said.
Israel has denied accusations of attempts to change the Temple Mount status quo, which stipulates that Jews may visit the site but not pray. The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site and the third holiest in Islam.
Nevertheless, Palestinian and Arabic-language media is rife with reports that Israel aims to demolish the mosque and implement Jewish control over the site.
A Jordanian report published by the Petra news agency said that Jews launched an “assault” on the Temple Mount on Sunday which was likely to “trigger a religious war.” In the meantime, the report contended, the “steadfast brethren of the al-Aqsa mosque, youth and worshipers … stood up against the vicious raids.”
King Abdullah II said Jordan’s responsibility for al-Aqsa mosque and the Temple Mount was a top priority for his country’s foreign policy. To that end, he noted, together with the Palestinian Authority, Jordan drafted a UNESCO resolution that was voted on by the UN agency’s executive board in April.
The text of the resolution ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, referring to it only by its Muslim name Haram al-Sharif.
A similar resolution discussed at July’s World Heritage Committee was delayed until October after the military coup in Turkey forced UNESCO to cut short its meeting in Istanbul.