Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Temple Mount in State Dept. Int'l Religious Report

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), contains the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, among the most holy sites in Islam. Jews refer to the same place as the Temple Mount and consider it the location of the ancient Jewish temple. The location has been, with all of East Jerusalem, under Israeli security control since 1967, when Israel captured the city (East Jerusalem was formally annexed in 1980, and thus Israel applies its laws to East Jerusalem). The Haram al-Sharif is administered, however, by the Islamic waqf, a PA-affiliated but Jordanian-funded and administered Muslim religious trust for East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli police control the compound's entrances, and limit access to the compound. The waqf can object to entrance of particular persons, such as non-Muslim religious radicals, or to prohibited activities, such as prayer by non-Muslims or disrespectful clothing or behavior, but lacks authority to remove anyone from the site, and thus must rely on Israeli police to enforce site regulations. In practice, waqf officials claimed that police often allowed religious radicals (such as Jews seeking to rebuild the ancient Temple on the site and to remove the mosques) and immodestly dressed persons to enter and often were not responsive to enforcing the site's rules.

While non-Muslims (except guests of the waqf) were not allowed to enter the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount from September 28, 2000 (the date of former Likud party head Ariel Sharon's visit which sparked unrest) until August 2003, non-Muslims could visit the site during designated visiting hours. The Israeli government, as a matter of stated policy, has prevented non-Muslims from worshipping at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount since 1967. Israeli police consistently did not permit public prayer on public safety grounds and publicly indicated that this policy has not changed in light of the renewed visits of non-Muslims to the compound or the court ruling on the issue. Waqf officials contend that the Israeli police, in contravention of their stated policy and the religious status quo, have allowed members of radical Jewish groups to enter and to worship at the site. Spokesmen for these groups have claimed successful attempts to pray inside the compound in interviews with the Israeli media. The Waqf interprets police actions as part of an Israeli policy to incrementally reduce Waqf authority over the site and to give non-Muslims rights of worship in parts of the compound.

Since October 2000, the Israeli government, citing security concerns, prevented most Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from reaching the Haram al-Sharif by prohibiting their entry into Jerusalem. Restrictions were often placed on entry into the Haram al-Sharif even for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, such as a frequently implemented restriction on males under the age of forty-five.

There were also disputes between the Muslim administrators of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Israeli authorities regarding Israeli restrictions on waqf attempts to carry out repairs and physical improvements on the compound and its mosques. In 2005 Palestinian workers under direction of Jordanian engineers worked on restoring tiles on the Dome of the Rock and Ottoman-era stones on the southern and eastern walls of the compound. Israeli authorities prevented the waqf from conducting several improvement projects or removing debris from the site, alleging [!] that the waqf was attempting to alter the nature of the site or to discard antiquities of Jewish origin.

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