What is Jerusalem's contentious holy site Temple Mount?

Jerusalem's Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif has often been at the center of competing Jewish and Palestinian national narratives. DW explains the significance of the holy site and why it is so contentious.

Known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), the holy site has long been a center of contention between Palestinians and Israelis.

Located in Jerusalem's Old City, the entire compound includes the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, several gates, fountains and open areas. It is from the Al-Aqsa Mosque that Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to the heavens. 

For the world's 1.7 billion Muslims, it is the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. For Palestinians, it is also symbol of their struggle for a state and Israel's military occupation.

Competing claims 

The Temple Mount is believed by Jews to be the site of two biblical temples. It is Judaism's holiest site, but Jews are not allowed to pray there. It is located above the Western Wall, part of an old temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray.

A view of Jerusalem shows the Western Wall (L), the Dome of the Rock (C) and the al-Aqsa Mosque (R).

Israel occupied the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in an act not recognized under international law.  Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state.

However, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif remained under the administration of the Islamic Waqf (endowment) and custodianship of Jordan, whose Hashemite leaders claim a direct line of descent to the Prophet.

Jews and tourists are allowed to visit the holy site, but only Muslims are allowed to pray.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Palestinians' protests turn violent

The Palestinian protests turned into clashes in which one man was shot dead on Friday. The Health Ministry said at least 20 people were hospitalized from rubber bullet wounds and tear gas inhalation during clashes with Israeli police. The day had started with increased security measures.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

No access for men under 50

Israeli police said they would prohibit Palestinian men under the age of 50 from entering Jerusalem's Old City for Friday prayers at the holy site of Haram al-Sharif, also known as Temple Mount.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Women are allowed to enter

Israeli authorities said they would allow women of all ages to enter the holy site for Friday prayers.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Praying as an act of protest

Palestinian Muslims have been praying on the streets outside the mosque compound for the past week.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Women gather outside in solidarity

In the Old City of Jerusalem, Palestinian women come together to pray on the street outside of the holy site, following an appeal from Muslim clerics.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Contentious security measures

Israeli authorities say the security measures are necessary after three Arab Israeli gunmen killed two police officers at the entrance of the shrine. The issue has quickly gained an international dimension as the mosque compound is considered the third most holy site in Islam after Medina and Mecca.

Changing the status quo?

Palestinians have long accused the Jewish nationalist right-wing of seeking to undo the so-called status quo, a series of arrangements that give Muslims considerable administrative autonomy over the compound.

These actions include allowing "illegal Israeli settler leaders, along with other Israeli extremists, to invade the Al-Aqsa compound escorted by Israeli Police,"according the Palestinians.

Palestinian concerns are aggravated by frustration over the larger issue of continued Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and military occupation. 

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The Israeli government has repeatedly stated it has no intention of undoing the status quo.  It has also accused the Palestinians of over-exaggeration and incitement over issues surrounding the mosque compound.

Standoffs over the holy site, such as the implementation of metal detectors, have raised concern it could unleash a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Over the years, there have been repeated Palestinian protests and clashes with Israeli police over the holy site.

The second intifada was triggered in 2000 after former Israeli President Ariel Sharon visited the holy compound. 

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Mount of Olives today

The old City Wall and the gold-domed Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock, are visible in the background from the mountain ridge which lies to the east of the Old City. The Old Jewish Cemetery, situated on the western and southern slopes of the ridge, are in an area once named for its many olive groves. It is the oldest continually used Jewish cemetery in the world.

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Mount of Olives then

If it weren't for the ancient Ottoman city wall and the shrine in the background, viewers might not realize this is the same site. The picture was taken on June 7th, 1967, when the peak was this brigade's command post at the height of the Six-Day War, or Arab-Israeli War.

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Al-Aqsa mosque today

Al-Aqsa, with its silver-colored dome and vast hall, is located on Temple Mount. Muslims call the mosque the "Noble Sanctuary," but it is also the most sacred site in Judaism, a place where two biblical temples were believed to have stood. As well, it is the third holiest site in Sunni Islam, after Mecca and Medina. There have long been tensions over control of the entire Temple Mount area.

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Al-Aqsa mosque then

The name Al-Aqsa translates to "the farthest mosque." It is also Jerusalem's biggest mosque. Israel has strict control over the area after conquering all of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, and regaining access to its religious sites. Leaders at the time agreed that the Temple Mount would be administered by an Islamic religious trust known as the Waqf.

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Damascus Gate today

The historic Gate, named in English for the fact that the road from there heads north to Damascus, is a busy main entrance to Palestinian East Jerusalem, and to a bustling Arab bazaar. Over the past two years, it has frequently been the site of security incidents and Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Damascus Gate then

The gate itself - what we see today was built by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1537 - looks much the same in this July 1967 picture. Seven Gates allow entrance to the Old City and its separate quarters.

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Old City today

Jerusalem's vibrant Old City, a UNESCO world Heritage Site since 1981, is home to sites important to many different religions: the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque for Muslims, Temple Mount and the Western Wall for Jews, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians. Busy and colorful, it is a great place for shopping and food, and a top attraction for visitors.

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Old City then

This picture was taken in July 1967, but 50 years later, some things in the Old City haven't changed at all. Boys like the one in the photo balancing a tray of sesame pastries - called bagels - still roam the streets of the Old City today, hawking the sweet breads sprinkled with sesame seeds for about a euro ($1.12) apiece.

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Western Wall today

This section of ancient limestone wall in Jerusalem's Old City is the western support wall of the Temple Mount. It is the most religious site for Jewish people, who come here to pray and perhaps to place a note in a crack in the wall. There is a separate section for men and for women, but it is free and open to everyone all year round - after the obligatory security check.

Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

Western Wall then

The Western Wall is also known as the 'Wailing' Wall, a term considered derogatory and not used by Jews. The above photo of people flocking to the Wall to pray was taken on September 1, 1967, just weeks after Israel regained control of the site following the Six-Day-War. It had been expelled from the Old City 19 years earlier during Jordan's occupation.