By B. Cohen
Palestinian leaders have reacted with fury to an Israeli suggestion that a second gate might be opened to allow Jewish visitors and tourists to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the site of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, considered the third-holiest site in Islam.
Hanan Ashrawi, a Christian member of the PLO Executive Committee who is widely regarded as a moderate, issued an extraordinary statement condemning the idea of a second entrance, which has yet to be approved by the Israeli government.
“Israel is creating a new reality at the expense of Palestinians, their religious rights, sites, and historical identity,” Ashrawi told the Ma’an Palestinian news agency.
Threatening that regional war could be ignited if the suggestion was to be implemented, Ashrawi thundered: “Israel is creating a new reality at the expense of Palestinians, their religious rights, sites, and historical identity. They are violating the sanctity of religious sites without consequences, which completely terminates possibilities for peace and will ultimately drag the whole region into disastrous clashes.”
Leading Jewish blogger Elder of Ziyon reported that the Israeli tourism ministry had floated the idea in order reduce congestion among non-Muslims – Jews as well as tourists – lining up at the only one of the eleven gates leading to the Temple Mount which they are permitted to use. The other ten gates are reserved for Muslims only.
Following attacks by Arabs on Jews at the site in September, in advance of the Rosh Hashana Jewish high holiday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch called for Jewish worshipers to have full access to the site.
Under the terms of an agreement with the Waqf, the Islamic body which administers the Temple Mount, non-Muslim visits to the Al-Aqsa complex are permitted and regulated by the Israeli police, but Jews are not allowed to pray at the site for fear that doing so could trigger major disturbances and unrest. Currently, Jews and other non-Muslims access the Temple Mount through the Mughrabi Gate. The mooted second entrance would be through the Cotton Merchant’s Gate, at the north side of the site.