Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced back in February that he had instructed authorities to prevent the opening of a new mosque at the Temple Mount’s “Gate of Mercy,” the Islamic Wakf has continued construction work at a feverish pace, causing irreparable damage to the ancient structure.
Israeli NGO Regavim petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice on the eve of Jerusalem Day, renewing its earlier call to prevent the opening of the mosque. Regavim submitted an urgent request to the court for a temporary injunction that would close the structure, in an attempt to restore the status quo at the site. The petition, based on documentation of the Wakf’s recent activities at the site, proves beyond a doubt that the Wakf has taken steps to permanently turn a historic structure at the “Gate of Mercy” into a mosque, carrying out construction work that has irreparably damaged the ancient building, in flagrant violation of Netanyahu’s instructions to enforce the closure of the building.
Regavim’s first petition was submitted in March, but Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz allowed the government and the Wakf 90 days to respond—all the time the Wakf needed to transform the site into a Muslim-only compound.
The defense establishment identified radical Islamist activity at the site, orchestrated by Hamas operatives, and the government requested a court order to shut down the site, which was duly issued by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. The Wakf ignored the court order and continued its construction project—in broad daylight and in flagrant disregard for the law.
In light of the ongoing construction work and the government’s failure to enforce the closure order issued at its own request, Regavim petitioned the High Court of Justice to shorten the 90-day period granted to the state and the Wakf to respond to the earlier petition. In its response to this petition, the government argued that the relevant authorities “are taking steps to regulate an overall approach for dealing with the ‘Gate of Mercy’ compound; there is, therefore, no need for a temporary injunction to be issued at this stage.”
Not surprisingly, Justice Mazuz rejected Regavim’s request for a temporary closure order; even less surprisingly, despite the government’s claim that it was tending to the matter, the Wakf continued to carry out illegal construction work on the Mercy Gate structure, installing ceiling fans, lighting, furniture, and room dividers—permanent changes that have harmed the ancient structure, all without any oversight of the Israel Antiquities Authority as required by law.
The exclusive use by Muslim worshippers of this building turns it de facto into a mosque, which creates a security threat of the highest order—one that security experts warned against in no uncertain terms. This was precisely the scenario the government foresaw when it asked for (and received) the Magistrate’s Court’s closure order.
Netanyahu declared at the end of February that “Israel has not given its consent to opening the mosque on the Temple Mount.” A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office at the time declared that Netanyahu had given instructions “to enforce the court order without compromise and to ensure that the site remains closed,” but in practice it appears that the work that is turning the site into a mosque has passed the point of no return.
“It is impossible to overstate the massive damage that has been done to the rule of law in this case: Lawbreakers do whatever they please at a holy site that is of indescribable religious and archaeological significance, in violation of a court order,” said Yakhin Zik, director of operations at Regavim. “Without a temporary injunction, the illegal seizure of the compound and the illegal construction work will continue. The bottom line is that on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s watch, Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem is being trampled.”
Naomi Kahn is director of the International Division of Regavim, a research-based think tank and lobbying group dedicated to preserving Israel’s resources and sovereignty.