Tensions rise ahead of opening of mosque in Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City

This is a “blatant effort to stir up religious tensions and challenge Israeli sovereignty and legitimacy in the Old City,” says the founder of non-profit Keep Jerusalem. 

By Aryeh Savir, TPS and World Israel News

Residents of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem are preparing for widespread protests following the renovation and reopening of the Sidna Omar mosque in the heart of the neighborhood.

The mosque, located on the main road to the Western Wall and in close proximity to several Jewish educational institutions, has been closed for decades and will open to Muslim worshipers in the coming weeks after undergoing renovations paid for by Jordan. This development has become a source of great concern in the Jewish Quarter and among Jewish communities in Jerusalem and abroad.

Over the weekend, representatives of a newly established action committee and rabbis convened for a meeting in which they concluded that “the evil of decree must be annulled, and efforts should commence to hold a dialogue with Waqf to prevent an outburst.”

‘What will happen on Yom Kippur and Ramadan?’

Residents of the Jewish Quarter told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) they are outraged at what they say is the incompetence of the Israeli authorities, and especially the Jerusalem municipality, which they said has known about the renovations but has taken no action. Likewise, the police admitted that they knew about the renovations but did not comment or act on the matter, they said.

“It is unthinkable that when tens of thousands of Jewish worshippers come to pray at the Jewish Quarter, prayers will be held in the mosque, especially during Ramadan,” committee members told TPS. One member of the committee asked at the meeting, “What will happen on Yom Kippur and Ramadan prayers?”

On Sunday morning, World Israel News (WIN) contacted the Jerusalem Municipality, asking why the opening of the mosque is permitted, considering that no Muslims live in close vicinity to the site as well as the serious security considerations. The media spokesperson did not provide an answer by deadline – late Monday afternoon – although he said he has been trying to get information from the police and other authorities.

A spokesperson for Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs showed little concern, telling WIN that the renovations are being done by a private company and it has nothing to do with them – “the same as if you needed renovations for your home.”

“We certainly have to assume the security risk is greater,” Rabbi Eli Deutsch, a resident of the Jewish Quarter and father of six, told WIN.

“However, if you’re asking if I’m petrified and living in fear, certainly not,” he added. “But you have to assume there will be incidents that will occur that would not have occurred otherwise. And this will cause periods of higher tension.

“In addition to the security factor,” he continued, “we have to ask ourselves why we are proactively assisting those whose clear agenda is our destruction.”

“The State of Israel has a national case of the ‘Exile Jew’ complex, Deutsch said, “where the Jew in exile twists himself into a pretzel to get approval from the non-Jewish world. In the end it is merely a sign of the Jew’s own lack of sense of self, and it signals fear and weakness.”

Moshe Kempinski, owner of Shorashim Biblical Shop in the Old City, told WIN that the reopening of the mosque is “definitely an attempt to show control. I wouldn’t have any problem with it if they would allow Jews to open a synagogue on the Temple Mount.”

In the meantime, mediation efforts and talks with Muslim public figures and representatives of the Waqf have commenced. The action committee hopes that the efforts will bear fruit in the coming days and prevent the deterioration of the situation in the Quarter and other parts the Old City.

More Muslim sites in the Old City?

TPS has learned that Jordan intends to renovate more Muslim sites in the Old City, assisted by the Al Quds Commission, which is sponsored by the King of Morocco, including the Yaaqubi Mosque and the Omar Ben-Khatab Mosque adjacent to the Holy Sepulcher.

Chaim Silberstein is the founder of Keep Jerusalem, “a non profit, non partisan organization founded to educate the public at large as to the importance of a United Jerusalem under Israeli Sovereignty,” according to its website.

“It is clear that this effort by the Muslims to reopen this mosque in the heart of the Jewish quarter is a political, not religious, move,” Silberstein told WIN. “There is a plethora of mosques and religious institutions in the areas where the Muslims live in the Old City and elsewhere. There are no Muslims living in the immediate area this mosque.

“It is a blatant effort by bad-intentioned Muslims to stir up religious tensions and challenge Israeli sovereignty and legitimacy in the Old City. This must be stopped immediately, and if not, we will be witness to further acts of aggression and challenges to our sovereignty,” Silberstein continued.

“If this is unchecked it will inevitably bring about clashes and violence and bloodshed, which is their goal in the first place. In short, this is religious terror, and Israel would be smart to nip it in the bud right now,” he warned.

The Sidna Omar mosque was built in the 14th century adjacent to the Ramban synagogue and was instrumental in causing the synagogue’s shutdown.