AMMAN: The director of Jerusalem’s Islamic Waqf welcomed Israeli moves to de-escalate tensions surrounding Islam’s third-holiest mosque, but called for a serious and permanent change of policy by Israel.
Sheikh Azzam Khatib — an employee of Jordan’s Waqf in Jerusalem, the Islamic religious trust responsible for the management of the Islamic holy sites around, and including, Al-Aqsa Mosque — told Arab News that certain moves have lessened tensions but serious decisions are still pending. “We welcome the Israeli decision to bring down the scaffolding that has been up for over two years on the walls of Al-Aqsa, but call for the removal of the remaining scaffolding near the Moghrabi gate, which is five times the size of the removed scaffolding.”
Khatib expressed satisfaction at the decision of an Israeli court to reject a request by the pro-settlers right-wing NGO Regavim to reassess the Waqf’s rights over Bab Al-Rahmeh (the Golden Gate).
Khatib also called on the Israeli police itself to withdraw its own petition to the court, explaining, “The Israeli police have filed a case calling for the closure, again, of Bab Al-Rahmeh on charges that it is used for terroristic actions.”
Jordanian officials also welcomed the decision of the Israeli court, but a senior official — speaking on condition of anonymity — told Arab News that he does not believe the Israelis are fully committed to de-escalation.
“If they were serious, they would withdraw the case filed against the Waqf on December 29th and remove all the scaffolding,” the source said.
Bab Al-Rahmeh was reopened to worshippers in February 2019, after a 16-year closure initiated by Israel over claims that the area was used for fomenting anti-Israeli sentiment and actions. It has remained open since despite ongoing Israeli efforts to close it.
Nit Hasson, a reporter for the independent Israeli daily Haaretz, told Arab News that he doubts that the Israeli court system will be much help to the Waqf.
“It is a known tradition that the Israeli courts do not interfere or stand in the way of decisions of the police,” he said.
Hasson said the scaffolding that remains has nothing to do with Muslims or the Waqf, but with the tensions between Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews.
“The Orthodox Jews don’t want women having any rights at the (Western Wall), while the non-orthodox — many of whom live in the US — are fighting for the rights of women to have access to (it),” he explained.
The scaffolding was raised two years ago, when a stone fell near the location earmarked for female Jewish worshipers.
The scaffolding indirectly blocked that area off, and the Israeli government has kept that part of the scaffolding for internal reasons, according to Hasson. “It is Netanyahu’s way of solving problems,” he said.
The removal of part of the scaffolding on Tuesday came one day after Jordanian Ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali visited Al-Aqsa Mosque and met with the Jerusalem Waqf Council.