Israel police detain man planning Passover sacrifice at Al-Aqsa

Fears are mounting that Jewish ultranationalists are trying to alter status quo at the compound housing Al-Aqsa mosque.

Aerial view of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound
The Dome of the Rock lies in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a holy site for Muslims and a national symbol for Palestinians. Ultranationalist Jews have increased their attempts to pray on the site in recent years [File: Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters]

Israeli police say they have detained an ultranationalist Israeli campaigner who had planned to carry out a Jewish sacrifice at Al-Haram al-Sharif – the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

The arrest on Monday comes as Israeli authorities attempt to prevent what would be considered a provocative Passover sacrifice from taking place at the site, as Palestinian Muslims mark Ramadan.

The compound, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, is a flashpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with incidents often arising during religious holidays.

The holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover holidays converge this year, an occurrence that has often led to Israeli forces cracking down on Palestinians, especially in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israeli media aired phone footage taken by the campaigner, Raphael Morris, that showed him being pulled over in his car by plainclothes policemen.

In the video, an officer says Morris is suspected of disrupting public order and that his house would be searched. Police said the video was authentic.

Morris was stopped while driving near Latrun, about 35km (22 miles) from Jerusalem, said the Temple Mount Administration, a messianic Jewish movement that aims to build a Jewish temple inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Some ultranationalist religious groups have been calling for fellow activists to bring lambs to sacrifice at the site on Wednesday, the beginning of the Passover festival.

Since the 1967 war, there has been a status quo arrangement between Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan – in its capacity as custodian of Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem – that prevents non-Muslim worship there and allows visits from non-Muslims at specific times.

Jews traditionally do not worship on the site, with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate forbidding Jews from even entering the site for religious reasons.

Despite that, an increased number of ultranationalist Jews have entered the compound, and the frequent storming of the site by Israeli security forces, including inside the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa Mosque, has fuelled Palestinian anger.

So, too, have increased provocative visits by Itamar Ben-Gvir, a convicted felon who serves as Israel’s national security minister, and who is part of a growing movement in Israel that has challenged the restrictions on Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa.

Confrontations between Israeli security forces and settler groups on one side and Palestinians on the other have occurred numerous times over the past two years, particularly following storming incidents in Al-Aqsa.

The incidents have made Palestinians increasingly fearful of an eventual Jewish attempt to takeover or partition the site.

Palestinians see Al-Aqsa as one of the few national symbols over which they retain some element of control. They are, however, fearful of a slow encroachment by Jewish groups akin to what has happened at the Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron, where half of the mosque was turned into a synagogue after 1967.

Palestinians are also worried about far-right Israeli movements that seek to demolish the Islamic structures in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and build a Jewish temple in their place.

Over the years, there has been a clear trend of an increase in the number of Jews ascending the compound to either demand the formalisation of Jewish prayer on the site or to actually pray there surreptitiously and sometimes freely as police officers look on.

Right-wing Jews have tried in the past to smuggle goats to the holy site to reenact the Passover sacrifice.

In 2016, ten people were detained by police on their way to offer the Passover sacrifice in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The following year, Israeli police detained a Jewish man carrying a young goat in Jerusalem’s Old City on suspicion that he planned to use it in a religious sacrifice. The incident occurred hours before the week-long Passover holiday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies