The secret to peace in Palestine

The status of the mosque was the spark that ignited the violence, but the situation in all Jerusalem cannot be ignored.

A general view shows the al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam''s third holiest site, in the Old City of Jerusalem [AFP]
A general view shows the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site, in the Old City of Jerusalem [AFP]

United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to restore calm to Jerusalem correctly identifies the need to honour the right of Muslims to worship at al-Haram al-Sharif while allowing non-Muslims to visit the mosque.

However, without returning to the status quo – especially with regards the Mughrabi Gate – suspicion will remain. The controversial gate has been monopolised by the Israeli security and the suspicion will linger no matter how many additional cameras are added.

Visitors to al-Haram al-Sharif, like visitors to any shrine around the world, need to follow the regulations of the custodians – in this case, Jordan’s Ministry of Religious Endowments (or Awqaf). Tourists – whether Jewish, Christian or agnostic – wishing to visit must purchase a ticket from Jerusalem’s Awqaf Department (which is under Jordan’s Awqaf ministry) and enter from the designated gate. This was the practise prior to 2000, as per the status quo. 

This violation of the status quo occurred shortly after the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. It is time for Israel to allow the Awqaf ministry to reclaim jurisdiction over the Mughrabi Gate in allowing visitors.

Inside Story: What’s fuelling the recent wave of attacks in Israel?

Sharon’s visit

In October 2000, after the controversial visit by Ariel Sharon to al-Haram al-Sharif, Israel ordered the Islamic Waqf guard stationed at the Mughrabi Gate to leave.

The violence we are witnessing today is the result of Israel’s tampering with centuries-old agreements (generally referred to as status quo).

The status quo doesn’t only apply to Islamic sites in Jerusalem but also applies to Christian holy places, which have also seen violent clashes over such a simple problem as who has the right to clean or who can use a ladder.

The tensions between the competing Christian denominations lead all parties to accept that the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are entrusted to a Muslim Palestinian family that has daily opened the church for centuries.

Also read: Jerusalem: The ignored conflict

Knowing Jerusalem’s history and its sensitivities is exactly why the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Jordanian monarch King Abdullah II have repeatedly warned about the dangers of a religious war. In its attempts to restore order, Jordan is calling for the return of the management of al-Haram al-Sharif to the pre-October 2000 arrangement.

Knowing Jerusalem's history and its sensitivities is exactly why the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Jordanian monarch King Abdullah II have repeatedly warned about the dangers of a religious war.


Since then, Israel has attempted to bring in Jewish visitors without the permission of the mosque’s guardians. Jordan, accepted by all parties as the legitimate guardian of the mosque, now insists that all tourists, including Jewish tourists, must abide by the regulations that all tourists to the holy shrine must abide by and has suggested placing 24/7 cameras on site to ensure compliance.


While the status of the mosque was the spark that ignited the current – as well as the previous – rounds of violence, the situation in all of East Jerusalem and its people must not be ignored.

Restrictions on issues of residency, work, housing and movement has pushed Palestinians against the cement wall that Israel has built and contributed to the explosion we are seeing.

Housing permits are routinely denied because they are not part of a discriminatory zoning plan that ignores East Jerusalem’s Arab neighbourhoods while quickly approving settlement housing complexes in the occupied side of Jerusalem.

The fact that Arab neighbourhoods are purposely not planned has meant that local communities are forced to build illegally. In response, many such homeowners suffer regular house demolitions for violating city laws. All this while Israel builds settlements in East Jerusalem in violation of international law.

Meanwhile, a nine-storey building named Jonathan House, built illegally (according to Israeli law) in Silwan, a predominantly Arab neighbourhood outside the Old City, continues to house rowdy Jewish settlers without any attempt to execute equal justice.

In 1978, the Israeli High Court denied a Palestinian, Mohammad Burqan, the right to repurchase his own house in the Mughrabi Quarter, adjacent to the Jewish quarter, because the now expanded Jewish Quarter has “special historical significance” to Jews, and this “supersedes all other claims by non-Jews”, said the court in its clearly discriminatory decision.

Israeli border police check Palestinians' IDs at a checkpoint as they exit the Arab neighbourhood of Issawiya in Jerusalem [AP]
Israeli border police check Palestinians’ IDs at a checkpoint as they exit the Arab neighbourhood of Issawiya in Jerusalem [AP]

Initial stabbing

Of course, Jews now live not only in the Jewish Quarter but in all quarters of the Old City and in Palestinian neighbourhoods outside the walls. And it was exactly in one of those homes that Ariel Sharon had bought in the al-Wad neighbourhood just outside Al-Aqsa Mosque that the initial stabbing took place on September 13.

While Israel regularly denies it, these Judaisation attempts are synchronised by the Israeli government, police, courts, Jewish settlers, radical groups and Knesset members, with each group doing its part.

Israel and its supporters (sometimes using US-tax exempt foundations) use the carrot and stick to take over Palestinian homes through dodgy deals, turning the lives of those who refuse to sell into hell, while vigilante settlers and their supporters are constantly protected.

Politically, Israel’s obsession to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine has meant that the Palestinian leadership has no leverage on fellow Palestinians.

Also read: Playing with fire at Al-Aqsa

Palestinian institutions like the Orient House and the Chamber of Commerce have been ordered closed by the minister of internal security since 2001, despite the international community‘s opposition.

Symbolic leadership

The few Palestinians holding any sort of symbolic leadership position – such as members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, nationalist leaders, heads of civil societies or religious leaders – are regularly hauled to the Israeli police station for questioning, short-term arrests and are sometimes forbidden from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque. Four Jerusalemites elected to the Palestinian legislature have been fighting for years for their right to remain in Jerusalem.

As a result of this systematic Israeli effort to deny Palestinians any form of recognised local leadership, various forms of alternative, often unknown, groups have sprouted to fill the vacuum due to the absence of genuine leaders, often along tribal or family structures.

The key to bringing back calm to Jerusalem begins by restoring the status of the city’s holy sites to their pre-2000 status, and politically empowering Jerusalem’s Palestinians to participate in the political process by allowing them to reconnect in both directions with their legitimate leadership in the rest of the occupied territories.

By giving priority to Jerusalem and its holy sites, it would be possible to begin the difficult road to restoring a sense of normalcy to the city and the rest of the Palestinian areas.

Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.