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Temple Mount

The Temple Mount refers to the elevated plaza above the Western Wall in Jerusalem that was the site of both of Judaism’s ancient temples. The site is also the third holiest in Islam (after Mecca and Medina) and has been a focal point of inter-religious tension for decades. At present, the site is under Israeli sovereignty but is administered by the Muslim Waqf (religious trust). Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted to visit, but Jewish prayer is forbidden there — a provision long contested by a small number of Israeli Jews who oppose Muslim control over the site. Violence has flared at the site on numerous occasions, and Israeli forces sometimes restrict access to Muslims at times of elevated tensions.

Photo by Robert Bye

The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as Har Habayit, is traditionally said to be the site where Abraham demonstrated his devotion to God by taking his son Isaac to be sacrificed. The mount is also the site of both ancient Jewish temples. The first, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The second was built in the sixth century BCE and stood for nearly 600 years before it was destroyed and the Jewish people exiled in 70 CE by the Roman Empire. Jews continue to mourn the destruction on the fast day of Tisha B’Av. According to Jewish tradition, a third temple will be built on the site during the messianic age.

Since Israeli forces regained control of the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel has extended its sovereignty over the site, though most of the world regards Israeli authority in all of eastern Jerusalem to be illegitimate. Day-to-day authority over the site rests with the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf. A waqf is a charitable trust recognized by Islamic law. Jordan, which had controlled eastern Jerusalem and the Islamic holy sites prior to 1967, continued to exercise a special guardianship over the mount, an arrangement later codified in the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, under which Israel “respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem.” Overall security for the site, including entry to visitors and worshippers, rests with Israeli security forces.