The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the two Jewish Temples were located, is the holiest site in Judaism. Called Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) by Muslims, the site now contains the Dome of the Rock as well as the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam.
The al-Aqsa Mosque is situated at the southern end of the Temple Mount plaza (esplanade), covering a relatively small part of its surface. Moreover, all evidence places the historical Jewish Temples on a different part of the Temple Mount than that now occupied by the mosque.
When Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it decided to allow the Islamic Waqf to continue to administer the site. Israel also chose to uphold the existing status quo, according to which non-Muslims can visit the Temple Mount at fixed times, but are not permitted to conduct any prayers. Moreover, non-Muslims who visit the Temple Mount cannot enter the al-Aqsa Mosque itself and are limited to visiting other parts of the site, mainly the large open spaces.
It is very important to note that the Government of Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and will oppose all proposals to change it.
In the past few months, Palestinian radicals have been trying to breach the status quo by preventing Christians and Jews from visiting the Temple Mount. Palestinian rioters - incited by Hamas and the radical branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel - have attacked visitors as well as the police with stones and fireworks, using the al-Aqsa Mosque as their base of operations. The Israeli authorities have sought to contain these attempts by Islamist extremists to escalate the situation on the Temple Mount.
The ridiculous accusations that Israel plans to harm the al-Aqsa Mosque are utterly baseless. The fact that they are made not only by Islamist extremists but also by the mainstream Palestinian leadership is alarming and dangerous.
It is the Palestinian rioters themselves who are defiling the al-Aqsa Mosque by transforming it into a base for attacks. They use the mosque's furniture as barricades and launch fireworks from inside its premises, where carpets and wooden beams could easily catch fire. The rioters are also demonstrating their disrespect for the many Muslim worshippers who simply wish to pray in peace, as well as for the Islamic Waqf that manages the site.
The Israeli Police, which is responsible for public order in Jerusalem, takes extra care not to hurt the sensitivities of Muslim worshippers on the Temple Mount. Officers only enter the area in specific cases when riots have to be controlled. Moreover, as a matter of policy, the police never enter the mosque itself. Although they often find themselves in life-threatening situations, police officers who operate on the Temple Mount are equipped merely with non-lethal measures.
Both Muslim worshippers and visitors from other faiths are expected to respect the status quo. Anyone who breaks the rules will be dealt with accordingly by the police, whether they are Muslim, Jewish or members of another faith.
Israel places the highest value on upholding freedom of religion and worship. Jewish holy sites (like the Western Wall), are open to visitors of all faiths, as are the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
The following is a link to a video clip which shows Palestinian rioters desecrating and endangering the al-Aqsa Mosque they pretend to protect: