The Old City’s The Gate of Mercy, (or Shaar HaRachamim in Hebrew), also called the Golden Gate, was sealed off by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1541, to prevent the Jewish Messiah, or the Anointed One, Elijah, from passing through, but last week a group of Arab worshipers removed an iron gate that was placed by the Israel Police in 2003 to prevent political activists from entering the Holy site.
Palestinians declared victory over the weekend after reopening a site on the Temple Mount that had been closed by Israel in 2003.
Thousands of Palestinians, chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great) entered the area, known as the Golden Gate in English and the Gate of Mercy (Bab al-Rahma) in Arabic, despite repeated attempts by the Jerusalem police to seal it off in the past week.
Some of the protesters entered the area carrying Palestinian flags.
Last week, a group of Muslim worshipers removed an iron gate installed by the police to keep the area closed.
Israel closed the Golden Gate site in 2003 after Palestinian activists and members of the Islamic Movement in Israel – Northern Branch reportedly used it to carry out political activities on the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).
Palestinians claim that Israel is planning to turn the area into a site for Jewish prayers.
Shalom Goldstein, former Arab affairs adviser to the mayor of Jerusalem, denied the Palestinian claim. He told The Jerusalem Post that Israel is not interested in the Golden Gate site and has no plans to turn it into a section for Jewish prayers.
Goldstein said the area was closed by a court order in 2003 after activists affiliated with Hamas and members of the Islamic Movement in Israel – Northern Branch opened offices there and engaged in “various activities.”
Jordan’s Wakf Department, which controls and manages the Temple Mount, was not pleased with what was going on at the Golden Gate site back then, he told the Post.
Recently, the Jordanian government decided to expand the Wakf administration in east Jerusalem by adding senior Palestinian Authority and Fatah officials to its management. They include PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Adnan Husseini, and senior Fatah official Hatem Abdel Kader Eid. The two officials are residents of east Jerusalem. Eid previously served as PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs.
The decision to expand the Wakf administration is seen in the context of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian effort to prepare for the announcement of US President Donald Trump’s plan for peace in the Middle East, which is also known as the “deal of the century.”
Although in 1988 Jordan renounced its claim to the West Bank – which it had occupied from 1948 to 1967, the peace treaty it signed with Israel in 1994 requires Israel to “respect the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem.”
The peace treaty also states that “when negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.”
In 2013, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II signed an agreement recognizing Jordan’s role as custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
“The Jordanians are preparing for the day the Deal of the Century is announced,” a PA official told the Post. “They don’t want to be alone when the plan is announced because it will also affect the Muslim religious sites. That’s why they invited Palestinian officials to join the Wakf administration. This way it will be easier for them to confront any controversial steps in the ‘deal of the century’ regarding the status of Haram al-Sharif.”
Another PA official said that by joining forces with the Palestinians, Jordan is also hoping to prevent other Islamic parties, including Saudi Arabia and Morocco, from playing a significant role concerning the administration of the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.
The newly formed Wakf administration’s first step has been to challenge Israel’s closure of the Golden Gate site so as to reassert its control over the entire Temple Mount compound.
Palestinian officials hailed the entry of worshipers into the Golden Gate site on Friday as a “big victory.” They said that the move marked the beginning of a new era in confronting Israeli attempts to establish new facts on the ground at the Temple Mount.
Mohammed Shtayyeh, member of the Fatah Central Committee, said that what happened during the Friday prayers “proves that all Israeli decisions and measures to Judaize Jerusalem have failed.”
Shtayyeh pointed out that this was the second time that Palestinians had forced Israel to yield to their demands in the past two years. He was referring to the 2017 Israeli decision to install metal detectors and security cameras at the Gate of the Tribes entrance to the Temple Mount, triggering a wave of protests after which Israel removed the equipment.
Mahmoud Habbash, Religious Affairs Adviser to Abbas, said the Golden Gate was “part of the Islamic doctrine.” He warned that any Muslim who gives up one inch of Jerusalem or al-Aqsa Mosque would be conceding Mecca and the Koran.
Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab, chairman of the Wakf administration, praised the Palestinians who forced their way into the Golden Gate site. The Wakf Department, he said, was now preparing to renovate the area to allow Muslims to pray there on a daily basis.
Abdel Kader, the senior Fatah official, said that Friday’s events on the Temple Mount were part of an effort “to stop settlers from defiling al-Aqsa Mosque.”
The Palestinians who stormed the Golden Gate area, he said, “scored a big victory on behalf of all Arabs and Muslims.”
The Ramallah-based PA government said it was “proud” of the Palestinians who forced their way into the Golden Gate site, and called on Arab and Islamic governments to support the Palestinians and the “steadfastness” of the residents of east Jerusalem.
In a bid to prevent the Palestinians from reopening the closed site, the Jerusalem police on Friday morning detained some 60 east Jerusalem activists. Most of the detainees were released later in the evening.
On Saturday, the police arrested two prominent activists, Nasser Qoss and Ali Ajjaj, on suspicion that they led the worshipers who forced their way into the Golden Gate site on Friday. Qoss is the secretary-general of Fatah in Jerusalem’s Old City.
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