Opinion: ‘Do whatever you want on the Temple Mount!’

“It is hardly any surprise that the Waqf hears the message loud and clear: Do whatever you want, because you will not be held accountable before the law.”

By Naomi Linder Kahn

On Sunday night, four suspects were detained at the Mercy Gate of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. Police had spotted the four men transporting room dividers that they intended to install in the ancient structure that in recent months has been transformed by the Muslim Wakf into the Temple Mount’s newest mosque.

This past March, Regavim, a non-governmental organization dedicated to the preservation of Israel’s resources and sovereignty through equal and universal law enforcement, petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court against the Waqf’s illegal activity in the Temple Mount’s oldest structure.

Weeks ago, when it first became clear that the ancient structure was being turned into a mosque — in violation of the law protecting antiquities, the status quo, and the principles of equal access and freedom of worship — Regavim asked the court to protect the site and the rights of Jewish worshippers and visitors.

Reacting to Sunday night’s events, Regavim’s spokesperson pointed out that the government’s behavior over the past several months has created the abysmal situation on the Temple Mount: The Waqf has established a new mosque — the fourth new Muslim place of worship to spring up under the status quo arrangement — in a manner that violates the law as well as the rights of Jews to visit and worship at Judaism’s holiest sites.

Looking back at the government’s recent response to Regavim’s petition, the situation seems even more absurd: The Israel Police testified that, in recent weeks, the Waqf has continued to carry out illegal construction and other work at the site despite the closure order issued by the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court this past March, which ordered the complete closure of the Mercy Gate structure.

Court orders and status quo arrangements notwithstanding, the Waqf has continued to transform the site: A loudspeaker system was installed to enable the Muslim call to prayer, new prayer rugs were installed, chandeliers were hung complete with new electrical wiring and a fuse box to supply a steady supply of power, and more.

When Regavim first appealed to the Supreme Court against the creation of a new mosque at the site, Justice Menachem Mazuz gave the government a full 90 days to respond to the petition. Recently, Regavim returned to the court, requesting an injunction that would prevent any further changes at the Mercy Gate until the case is heard. A hearing on this second petition was scheduled for early July, but at the last moment was postponed until late September — nearly half a year after the original petition was filed.

Meanwhile, the Waqf continues to carry out construction and renovation work, as evidenced by the room dividers that nearly made their way into the mosque Sunday night.

According to Yakhin Zik, director of operations at Regavim, “When the State itself fails to enforce a closure order issued by the court — at the State’s request! — and when Supreme Court justices delay the hearing on our petition for months on end, it is hardly any surprise that the Waqf hears the message loud and clear: Do whatever you want, because you will not be held accountable before the law.”

Naomi Kahn is director of the International Division of Regavim, a research-based think tank and lobbying group dedicated to preserving Israel’s resources and sovereignty.