Palestinians to protest Friday after Jews sacrifice lambs near Temple Mount

As Gazans gear up for ‘March of Return’ Friday, Al-Aqsa mosque leader pans court’s approval for ancient ritual just below flashpoint site

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Jewish priests prepare for a Passover Sacrifice 'practice' ceremony at Davidson Center in Jerusalem Old City, on March 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish priests prepare for a Passover Sacrifice 'practice' ceremony at Davidson Center in Jerusalem Old City, on March 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Palestinians across East Jerusalem will hold mass protests on Friday in the wake of a court-approved Passover sacrifice ceremony held by religious Jews close to the Temple Mount on Monday, the leader of the city’s Al-Aqsa Mosque announced.

The Jerusalem District Court gave the go-ahead for the Bible-mandated ritual of slaughtering the paschal lamb not on the Temple Mount, the holiest site for Jews, but just below it, in the Davidson complex.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, imam of Al-Aqsa — Islam’s third holiest shrine — said Tuesday, “We will not recognize the court’s decision because it has no right to discuss this subject. The decision harms and provokes the faithful, especially as this Friday marks Land Day,” the Ynet news site reported.

The announcement came as security forces gird themselves for Land Day protests close to the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri. (AP/Joao Silva)

Land Day is commemorated annually by Palestinians throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza to mark the day in 1976 when an Israeli government announcement of plans to expropriate Arab land led to clashes in which six Arab Israelis were killed.

This year, authorities in Gaza are planning a “March of Return” close to the enclave’s border with the Jewish state, with mass protests and the erection of a large tent city.

Jewish priests prepare for a Passover Sacrifice ‘practice’ ceremony at the Davidson Center in Jerusalem’s Old City, on March 26, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Torah mandates the sacrifice of the paschal lamb on the eve of Passover, also to be marked on Friday evening. According to the Bible, the meat is to be eaten on the first night of the  festival, together with unleavened bread — matzo — and bitter herbs.

Though only religiously mandated during the time of the Jewish Temples, in recent years, fringe groups of right-wing, religious Jews committed to rebuilding the Temple have been working to revive ancient rituals “in preparation” for its return to the Temple Mount.

Today, the Al-Aqsa Mosque stands on the same mount.

Jewish priests prefrom a Passover Sacrifice ‘practice’ ceremony at Davidson Center in Jerusalem Old City, on March 26, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 13 reported that hundreds of activists took part in Monday’s event.

Men dressed in biblical garb danced and purified themselves, members of the priestly tribe recited the traditional blessing and two sheep were ritually slaughtered and their meat roasted.

While last year’s ceremony took place in the Jewish Quarter (video below), this year’s gathering was not only widely advertised but also broadcast on giant screens near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Channel 13.

Among the active participants were Likud lawmaker Yehudah Glick and Jerusalem’s Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern. Stern made clear the ceremony should take place on the Temple Mount itself in future, the Channel 13 report said.

The Temple Mount stands at the center of the explosive relationship between Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land, given the current location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque there and the traditional location of the Jewish Temples, the last of which was destroyed by the Romans.

The Second Intifada, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, began in September 2000 after the late prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in a move deemed provocative by the Palestinians. Tensions at the site also helped ignite the more recent wave of unrest, which has seen Palestinians carrying out stabbing and car-ramming terror attacks against Israelis. Palestinians claim Israel is looking to change the status quo arrangements at the holy site, an assertion Israel strongly denies.

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