On Sunday, Jews returned to their holiest site, the Temple Mount, after a 12-day ban mandated by the Israeli government due to the Muslim Ramadan. However, when Jews returned to their holiest site, they were horrified to find piles of garbage and antiquities destroyed.
The conflict is focused on Shaar HaRachamim, the Gate of Mercy, also known as the Golden Gate. On Saturday, the Waqf (Muslim authority) claimed that Israeli police officers reportedly entered the site and removed electricity cables and construction materials.
The subterranean hall was locked in 2003 by court order after it was used as a meeting place for a Hamas-affiliated organization. In 2019, Palestinians illegally forced their way into the site and transformed it into a prayer hall.
The Waqf accused the Israeli authorities of “violating the sanctity of al-Aqsa Mosque.” It emphasized that the Bab al-Rahma prayer hall is an “original part of the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque”.
The Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, decried the actions of the police.
“The mosque belongs only to Muslims,” he said. “We reject any [Israeli] attempt to interfere in the administration of the Islamic holy sites. We are opposed to any attempt to alter the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif.”
But much of the Arab activity at the site was clearly destructive.
While tens of thousands of Arabs came to celebrate the end of Ramadan with the Eid al-Fitr feast, the religious festivities were marred by riots and destructive activities.
Or Nehemia Aharonov, a resident of Givat Assaf, was among some of the first Jews to visit the site after the closure. He was shocked at what he found.
“There was garbage everywhere,” he said. “We also saw some of the ancient stone remnants that were broken and used to block the pathways used by Jews,” Nehemiah said.
Perhaps most distressing was the obvious neglect of ancient timbers adjacent to the Sha’ar HaRachamim. Adjacent to the site is a pile of timber covered in a tarpaulin. Though they appear to be debris and are treated as such by the Muslims, they date back to the period of the Jewish Temples.
Repurposed to build the Aqsa Mosque, an earthquake in 1927 caused the roof to collapse. The roofing beams were dismantled and stored in the courtyard of the Sha’ar HaRachamim. In the 1970s, the beams were inspected by a team of Israeli botanists who determined that most of them were cedars from Lebanon and some are Cypress trees. They carried out Carbon-14 tests on several of the timbers. Some were determined to have been felled about 1,340 years ago, which is approximately when al-Aqsa Mosque was originally built. One cypress beam was determined to be 2,600 years old, or from around 630 BCE – around 50 years before the destruction of the First Temple. Shockingly, one of the oak beams was determined to be 2,860 years old. That meant the tree had been cut down around 880 BCE, early in the First Temple period.
About a decade ago, the Israeli Antiquities Authority wanted to preserve the beams but the Waqf insisted the beams are their property. There have been unconfirmed sightings of some of the beams stored next to the Golden Gate being burned.
“The beams have always been there,” Nehemia said. “But lately, they have been neglected and abused and there are clearly fewer of them.”
Tom Nisani, CEO of the Beyadenu Temple Mount advocacy organization, told Israel365 News that when the Jews returned to the Temple Mount, they found massive amounts of litter scattered on the holy site.
“The Jordanian Waqf and Palestinians continue to use the loose and inconsistent policies of the Israeli authorities to their benefit as they blame Israel for desecrating the site,” Nisani told Israel365 News. “Jewish ascenders arrived at the Temple Mount after a 12-day closure to find the most sacred site in Judaism trashed and abused. We should be the ones complaining about desecration.”
“Unless we apply Israeli control and sovereignty on the Temple Mount, it matters very little how often we close the site as every act is considered a provocation,” he added/
The Temple Mount is the holiest site to Judaism but the Sha’ar HaRachamim bears additional significance. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will arrive via the Sha’ar HaRachamim. Out of a mistaken belief that Jewish tradition speaks of the Messiah being from the priestly caste, the Ottomans built a cemetery in front of the gate in order to prevent the Jewish Messiah from arriving.
During the month of Ramadan, Palestinian violence increased with much being focused on the Temple Mount. After Israel and Jordan agreed to allow Muslims to stay overnight in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on April 11 to observe itikaf, a Muslim practice involving multi-day prayer, Hamas took the opportunity and called on Arabs to riot at the site. Several hundred Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the mosque with explosive devices, rocks, and fireworks in order to target Israeli civilians and security forces. Police responded by entering the mosque and employing crowd control measures that included stun grenades and tear gas, ultimately arresting 350 Palestinian men.