An Israeli court ruling on Wednesday deeming the performance of Jewish silent prayer within the Al-Aqsa Mosque premises not a "criminal act" has ignited fears among Palestinians that the move is a prelude to divide the holy site between Muslims and Jews in terms of time and space.
The unprecedented decision by the judge of the Jerusalem Magistrates Court, Bilha Yahalom, was criticized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as illegal and provocative.
“Such illegal decisions constitute an unprecedented attack on the inalienable religious rights of the Islamic nation and its heritage, a provocation to the feelings of Muslims all over the world, and a violation of freedom of worship and the sanctity of holy places,” the top Muslim body’s Secretary-General Yousef Al-Othaimeen said in a statement on Thursday.
Wednesday’s decision was the first by an Israeli court to support Jewish prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Recently, Israeli settlers began to perform silent prayers during their visits to the site.
Illegal Israeli move
While the verdict was welcomed by right-wing Israelis, it sparked angry Palestinian and Muslim reactions who vehemently oppose any move intended to divide the holy site with Jews in terms of time and space considering it a violation of the existing historical situation in the mosque that prevailed since the Ottoman rule, under the British mandate and Jordanian rule, to the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967.
Under the existing historical situation, prayer in the mosque is limited to Muslims only, while non-Muslims can visit it as tourists. The administration of the mosque is exclusively for the Islamic Endowment Department.
The Israeli police have already turned a blind eye to the religious rituals performed by the intrusive settlers which are happening gradually during specific times -- in the morning and after the noon prayer.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Al-Aqsa Mosque preacher Sheikh Ekrima Sabri said the court decision is “invalid.”
“The court has no right to interfere in the affairs of the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he said.
"The occupation court does not have jurisdiction with regard to the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the sheikh noted, saying the decision “is a prelude to the criminal scheme of the temporal and spatial division of the mosque."
He warned Israel not to temper with the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque as it is "a trust on the necks of all Muslims."
Other Muslim leaders and organizations in Jerusalem also condemned the ruling.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, expressed concern that Israeli extremists have greater ambitions behind the verdict.
"We take the decision and its aftermath seriously,” al-Kiswani told Anadolu Agency. “For now, it allows (silent) prayers, but what comes after that? The occupation and the extremists have greater ambitions than that."
For Muslims, the Al-Aqsa represents the world's third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the "Temple Mount," claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times, which is denied by Muslims.
The Jews also openly say that they seek to establish the alleged temple on the ruins of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Al-Kiswani said the ruling is indifferent to the feelings of Muslims pointing out the hasty way the settlement groups have moved to implement the verdict on the ground.
"The intrusive settlers perform Talmudic prayers more often now while being offered protection by the Israeli police,” al-Kiswani continued.
Al-Aqsa’s status quo
While successive Israeli governments verbally reiterate their commitment to the "status quo" of Al-Aqsa by respecting its existing historical status, the Palestinians believe Israel violates it.
Israeli left-wing lawyer and activist Daniel Seidman agrees with the Palestinians.
"There are several interpretations of what the current situation is in the Haram al-Sharif (Al-Aqsa), but everyone understands that it means Muslims praying (in it) and non-Muslims visiting (it)," Seidman told Anadolu Agency.
He added: "But this status quo has eroded in recent years, with Jewish prayers being performed, and the Israeli police are turning a blind eye to this, instead of maintaining the status quo.”
Seidman warned that the erosion of this status quo poses a serious problem citing the settler incursions of Al-Aqsa combined with the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction of Palestinians between April and May and how they led to violent confrontations and another round of Israeli-Gaza infighting.
"The reason is the feeling that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is being transformed from an Islamic site where non-Muslims only enter as tourists, to a joint Islamic-Jewish site,” Seidman explained.
"The court's decision is very dangerous," Seidman cautioned.
"The status quo must be restored, or else there will be blood.”