Israel mulls opening new entrance to Temple Mount

Cotton Merchant’s Gate would be second entryway for non-Muslims wishing to visit the holy site

The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, with Mughrabi Ascent bridge in foreground (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, with Mughrabi Ascent bridge in foreground (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israel’s Tourism Ministry is considering opening a second entrance to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount for non-Muslims.

The Tourism Ministry cited a heavy flow of human traffic as the reason for potentially opening a second entryway, the Cotton Merchant’s Gate, a report in Army Radio on Monday said.

Although there are ten entrances for Muslims to visit the Temple Mount, non-Muslim visitors may only access the complex through the Mughrabi Gate via a wooden bridge that rises above the Western Wall plaza.

The Temple Mount, which holds the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, is considered the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site for Jews as it was the location of the two ancient Jewish temples.

“There are 11 entrances to the Temple Mount, ten of which are open to Muslims, but only one is open to tens of thousands of tourists and Jews wanting to enter the Temple Mount,” said Rabbi Yehuda Glick, the leader of the LIBA Movement for Freedom of Movement on the Temple Mount. “Everyday the numbers waiting in line are increasing and the load is too much for the gate to handle.”

The Mughrabi Gate has been the site of frequent clashes between Israeli security forces and Muslim worshipers, due to a commonly perceived belief among the local Islamic community of Jewish encroachment onto the Temple Mount.

Last month, following violent clashes in and around the Temple Mount compound ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch called for Jewish worshipers to have full access to the site.

“It is important to open the [Temple Mount] to Jews, tens of thousands of worshipers come here,” he said while touring the area, according to Israeli news source Ynet.

By law, under arrangements Israel instituted after capturing the area in 1967, Jews are not allowed to pray at the site. The Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem is currently the sole religious authority at the compound.

Changes in the status quo of the Temple Mount are often times considered highly controversial given the importance of the site.

In September, an addition to the Mughrabi Bridge meant to boost the flow of non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount was dismantled after it was deemed “illegal” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The move, which was praised by Jordan and the Islamic authorities of the site, was seen by some as an attempt to decrease tensions.

Spencer Ho contributed to this report.

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