For the first time in 30 years, the Temple Mount holy site will be closed to Jewish visitors on Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of Israel taking control over the compound and the eastern part of the city during the 1967 Six Day War.
The contested holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City — the holiest to Jews and third-holiest to Muslims — is always closed to non-Muslims on the last few days of Ramadan, when large numbers of worshipers are at the site.
This year, those final days coincide with Jerusalem Day, which will be marked on June 1.
The last time the Temple Mount was closed to Jews on Jerusalem Day was in 1988, when it also coincided with the end of Ramadan.
Under an arrangement in place since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, non-Muslims are allowed to visit the Temple Mount, but not pray there.
Jews are allowed to enter during limited hours, but are closely watched and prohibited from any religious displays.
Last year, more than 2,000 Jews visited the site on Jerusalem Day, under close police supervision. But with hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers expected at the Temple Mount during the weekend of June 1, police on Monday said the decision was made to maintain public order in the Old City.
A statement from Police’s Jerusalem district said the site would be closed to Jews and tourists “for reasons of public safety and public order.”
The right-wing Students for the Temple Mount group denounced the decision and vowed to fight against it, saying they would “no longer stand idly by in the face of discrimination against Jews at their holy site, and definitely not on the day of this precious site’s liberation.”
The group called on politicians “dedicated to values of democracy, freedom of worship and freedom of access” to demand access to the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day.
Each year, tens of thousands of Israelis mark the anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification in a parade through Jerusalem’s Old City that is frequently marked by tension with local Palestinians.
The so-called Flag March, in which primarily religious teenagers march through the Old City decked in white and blue, has raised tensions over its route through the Muslim Quarter.
Palestinian shopkeepers with stores along the route are forced to shutter their businesses during the parade, and residents of the Muslim Quarter are advised to stay indoors.
In previous years, the march has sparked sporadic incidents of violence between Palestinians and Israeli revelers.
On Sunday, the Haaretz daily reported that police in Jerusalem are considering limiting the scope or route for this year’s march to maintain order on the tense day.
After Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, it annexed it and declared Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel. However, the move has not been recognized by much of the international community.
Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state, and the future status of the city is among the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.