BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A record number of right-wing Israelis visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem over the past week, which marked the Jewish holiday of Passover, according to a Tuesday report from Israeli news site The Jerusalem Post.
The Jerusalem Post reported that “approximately 1,600 Jews visited the site -- compared to last year’s 1,015 -- throughout the seven days of Passover,” citing Yirah, a right-wing organization that promotes Jewish visitation to the compound, which is the third holiest site in Islam and is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.
“The daily record for the number of Jews visiting the site was also broken on Sunday, with 495 Jewish visitors,” the report said, compared to the former record of 448, which was set during last year’s Sukkot holiday.
The largest number of Jews to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is 1,611, which was also set during last year’s Sukkot holiday.
An Israeli police spokesperson was not immediately available to confirm the reported numbers.
Three Israelis were detained by police for “openly praying” at the compound on Sunday, according to the report, though they were all subsequently released. “In addition, police prevented eight youths from visiting the (Temple) Mount due to classified information,” the Jerusalem Post reported, using Israel's term for the compound.
An Israeli police spokesperson said in a statement at the time
that “Israeli police evacuated two Jewish visitors who violated visitation rules.”
While Jewish visitation to the holy site reached an all-time high, Palestinians face severe restrictions during Jewish holidays for alleged security purposes.
“For (Palestinian) Jerusalemites, the Jewish holiday season means an escalation in arbitrary detentions, house raids, and searches -- measures that terrify families. The installation of additional security checkpoints, particularly at the Al-Aqsa Mosque (compound)’s gates and in the Old City, only increase tensions in Jerusalem,” Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) head in Jerusalem Nadi Qaws told Ma’an last week.
Leading up to the start of Passover, Israeli forces detained at least 30 Palestinians
during raids in East Jerusalem and banned them from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while three Palestinians from northern Israel were also banned from the holy site over a Facebook post related to Passover, amid a security crackdown imposed by Israel for the holiday.
While Jewish visitation is permitted to the Al-Aqsa compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Despite this agreement, Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site and carry out religious worship -- often under armed guard. Such visits spark frustration among Palestinians who see the incursions as a direct threat to Palestinian sovereignty and any potential for a future independent Palestinian state, which has been effectively marred by increasing settler presence across Palestinian land.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces almost entirely sealed the occupied West Bank
-- excluding urgent humanitarian cases -- for more than a week for Passover, preventing scores of Palestinians with Israeli-issued permits to access their jobs in Jerusalem and Israel, while also tightening the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The closures did not apply to Israeli settlers residing illegally in the West Bank.