Within the framework of efforts and discussions aimed at reaching a lasting and peaceful resolution between Israel and Palestine, Jerusalem has presented itself as the most arduous issue among those that were deferred for future negotiation following the Oslo Accords.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif has emerged as the primary impediment in the stalemate, exacerbated by Israel’s persistent and recurrent breaches of the Status Quo in Jerusalem.
The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 on Palestinian territory, following the British mandate and a decision to grant the Jews land to settle, has been a source of conflict between the Arab world, Palestine and Israel with regard to the rights of Palestinians over the occupied territory. Over time, subsequent wars have resulted in Israel gaining more territory, while the Arab world later prioritized its own interests, leaving the people of Palestine without support. The Oslo Accord and Abraham Accord have led to the normalization of relations between Arab states and Israel, yet without addressing the ongoing suffering of Palestinians. Recent events, such as the Israeli forces’ attack on worshipers offering prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, have drawn international condemnation for their brutality against innocent people. Israeli forces reportedly rushed into the mosque, deploying stun grenades, tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets, and using batons and rifle butts to beat worshipers, resulting in the injury of 31 Palestinians and the arrest and torture of nearly 450 men.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque holds tremendous significance for Muslims across the globe, and it serves as a place of worship for Palestinians. Under the Status Quo arrangement, the administration of Al-Aqsa Mosque rests with a Muslim entity, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which is under the guardianship of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This custodianship has been frequently reasserted and acknowledged by the global community, including the United Nations, UNESCO, the Arab League, the European Union, Russia, and the United States. Additionally, it was formally recognized in the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. However, the Israeli victory in the 1967 war and its subsequent occupation of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip enabled it to unilaterally claim control over Eastern Jerusalem, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated. In its pursuit of colonial ambitions, Israel implemented domestic laws that have been condemned by the United Nations Security Council as a violation of international law. Despite the such condemnation, Israel remains steadfast in its pursuit of these aspirations, and in 1980, it declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The UN passed Resolution 478, deeming this move a blatant violation of international law . Contrary to the terms of the Status Quo Agreement after the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the Israeli authorities seized control of the al-Buraq Wall and confiscated the keys to the al-Magharbeh Gate.
They also razed the Moroccan Quarter, which had stood since the 12th century and comprised of 135 houses and three mosques. In its place, they constructed what is now known as the Western Plaza.
Gradually from occasional breaches and violations of the agreement, Israel moved on further and restored access to the site to Jews and another non-Muslims contrary to the Status quo since August 2003.
The recent attack on worshippers is again a violation of the agreement. The Israeli occupation forces currently control the entrance of both Muslims and non-Muslims to the Temple Mount site, with non-Muslims only allowed to enter through one gate.
Temple Mount groups and Israeli extremists also enter from this gate, despite regulations banning military fatigues. Since 2003 Israeli forces have not only limited access of Muslim worshippers to the Holy Site and even went as far as prohibiting Palestinian Muslims from entering their holy site while allowing exclusive access to Jews.
The Al-Aqsa compound used to be a Muslim holy site that non-Muslims are only allowed to visit during regulated hours. However, there have been attempts by Temple Mount activists, including Israeli government officials, to secure the right to hold Jewish prayers at the site, despite the prohibition on non-Muslim prayers. These attempts are seen by Muslims and Palestinians as provocative and a violation of the Status Quo, arousing fears of an Israeli partition plan for the holy site. Along with that, under the Status Quo, the Waqf is responsible for excavations and maintenance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque site, but Israel has conducted illegal excavations and prohibited tractors and trucks from operating on the site under Waqf supervision. Additionally, the Israeli occupation forces have repeatedly attacked the site, desecrating the prayer hall and intimidating worshippers.
The settler-colonial agenda of Israel is the driving force behind these breaches of the Status Quo, as evidenced by the annual “flag march” celebrating Israel’s occupation of the eastern part of Jerusalem, during which Israeli settlers were allowed to storm into Al-Aqsa, raising Israeli flags, and recite Jewish prayers. Hence, the recent attack on worshippers is a continuous practice of Israeli forces since their occupation of East Jerusalem. It highlights Israel’s ambition to have full control over the area and to establish the third temple. As per the Jewish tradition, the first and second temples were erected at the site, and it is believed that the arrival of the Messiah will witness the rebuilding of the third temple at the same location. Orthodox Jewish law staunchly prohibits Jews from visiting the site as they perceive it as sacred land. Nevertheless, several Zionist religious organizations supported by eminent personalities from the Israeli political landscape have emerged with the principal aim of expediting the construction of the temple and guaranteeing Jewish rights to pray on the Mount.
The international community has expressed concern over this incident and called on Israel to halt the ongoing brutality against innocent individuals.
The actions of the Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem, including their seizure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other historical sites, are a gross violation of international law and have no legal or moral basis. It is imperative that the international community takes swift and decisive action to hold Israel accountable for its actions and ensure the preservation of these holy sites for future generations. The Al-Aqsa Mosque must remain under Palestinian control as per the Status Quo arrangement and Israel must respect the religious affiliation of Palestinean people towards Al-Aqsa.
The Author is Researcher at the Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK, working on Comprehensive Security and Strategic Stability. She is also an M.Phil. Scholar at Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad.