Ben-Gvir’s actions are a direct threat not just to Muslims, but also Christians and liberal Jews.
On January 3, Israel’s newly sworn-in National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir stormed Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site. The outrage and condemnations from Palestine and abroad followed swiftly.
The Palestinian government in Ramallah called on Palestinians to “confront the raids into Al Aqsa mosque”, while Hamas in Gaza labelled the move an “aggression against our sanctities”.
Arab states – including Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, which have normalised relations with Israel – condemned Ben-Gvir’s provocative actions. A planned visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Abu Dhabi was postponed.
The Biden administration slammed the move, saying it stands “firmly for the preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem”.
The “status quo”, which Ben-Gvir is clearly intent on challenging, is a 19th-century arrangement regulating who administers the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It has been recognised by countries across the world, as well as the United Nations, and has the status of binding international law.
Al-Haram al-Sharif, where Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, is part of the Islamic waqf (endowment) administered by the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. Thus, by the power of the status quo arrangement, it is King Abdullah II and the Jordanian-appointed Jerusalem Waqf Council who should decide what happens within its boundaries.