Status of Jewish Holy Sites

Under Jordanian occupation (May 28, 1948—June 7, 1967), all Jewish holy sites in East Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria were off-limits to Jews.

In East Jerusalem, 58 synagogues were destroyed or desecrated. Jordan built a road through the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives; used thousands of tombstones from the cemetery for building projects, including pathways to army latrines; let the Western Wall deteriorate; and, during the Six-Day War, used the Temple Mount as an ammunition dump.

In Hebron Jews were barred from the cave of Machpelah, containing the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and the Cave of Othniel (Jud. 3:9). Also, Hebron’s Jewish cemetery was almost completely destroyed.

Jordan’s actions directly violated the Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement of April 3, 1949, which called for “free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives” (Article VIII, para. 2).

After 1967
Following the Six-Day War, Jewish holy sites in all of Israel, including East Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, were under Israeli control. On June 27, 1967, Israel passed the Protection of Holy Places Law, safeguarding free access to the holy sites of all religions.

On June 17, 1967, in a show of goodwill, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan granted custodianship of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf (religious trust). Israel was responsible for Temple Mount security, but the Muslims were to manage the site. Jewish people were to be given permission to visit the Mount, but not to pray there.

The Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area of 1994, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip of 1995, and the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron of 1997 placed 21 Jewish holy sites in 13 locations under jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for protecting them and guaranteeing freedom of access. Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem remained under Israeli protection. No agreement was reached regarding the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, other than retaining the status quo (Muslims control 80 percent of the complex, with no Jewish access to the Muslim side).

In November 1999, the Muslim Waqf for the Temple Mount began building an egress for an underground mosque at the southeastern corner of the Mount complex. Bulldozers were used, along with heavy stone-cutting machines. Trucks hauled away tons of rubble, some containing ancient Jewish artifacts, and disposed of it in the nearby Kidron Valley. Despite Israeli outcries, work continued. Likud leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount on September 28, 2000, to inspect the damage. The Palestinians reacted with the second intifada.

Today’s Status
Almost all Jewish holy sites in Palestinian-controlled areas are highly restricted or prohibited to Jews, a clear breach of the Oslo Accords and other agreements. The Temple Mount is closed to Jews, and the southern wall is in danger of collapsing because of the Waqf’s construction.

Palestinian police stood by as Arabs ransacked, demolished, and burnt Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. The ancient Shalom al-Israel synagogue in Jericho was damaged by arson. Arabs repeatedly have fired on Jewish worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and at Rachel’s Tomb. Palestinian attackers tried to storm the Tomb of Joshua in Kifel-Hares, but the Israeli Defense Forces repelled them.

Most Muslim clerics and Palestinian leaders claim there is no evidence any Jewish presence existed on the Temple Mount and say no legitimate Jewish claim to the site exists. Further, they assert that all of Israel is Islamic territory, including the Jewish holy sites.

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