A group of Israeli Jews disguised themselves as Muslims and entered Masjid Al-Aqsa in the Old City of Jerusalem to offer Jewish prayers while pretending to engage in salah, a report has revealed.
Raphael Morris, chief of the “Returning to the Mount” group, told the BBC that members of his organisation dressed up as Muslims and learned Arabic to enter the Al Haram al Sharif without any restrictions being imposed by the Al-Aqsa authorities.
He said: “The mission is to re-conquer the Temple Mount. You change your clothing, change your hat. Sometimes you need to paint your hair or have a haircut. At the beginning, it is quite scary, but you get used to it very fast. You can pray and walk around the Temple Mount without having policemen walking after you.”
Israel’s Channel 13 News reported Morris to have said: “We are not prepared to accept the sanctions against Jews that exist on the Temple Mount.”
The group advocates Jewish sovereignty on the holy site, a move which security officials have warned could spark violence in the third holiest site in Islam (as well as being holy for Jews).
The Old City and East Jerusalem were captured by Israel in the 1967 war that lasted for six days. According to the understanding reached between Israel and the Al-Aqsa authorities, Jews are not allowed to pray at the site but can only visit. Israel also maintains the security of the site and religious activities are managed by the Muslim Waqf authorities.
The Zionist group teaches its followers to dress in the traditional clothes of Muslims and carry prayer mats and Arabic-language books. To look more like Arab Muslims, the members of the group sometimes colour their hair and beards dark black.
In a report by Yisrael, an instructor of the group was shown teaching others how to pray like Muslims while reciting liturgy.
One member of the group said: “At worst, okay, they catch you so you are arrested. It is worth it to me in order to pray properly and so as to not surrender to the humiliation.”
He also said that there will be “more and more who go up like this and then the police will simply need to open the gates to everyone.”
According to group members, if anything goes wrong during their visit, they can simply call the police for help. They also dismiss the fact that their actions can spark violence.
Public Security Minister, Omer Barley, convened a meeting in which Shin Bet representatives said that Jewish individuals disguised as Arabs are apprehended at the entry gates that are meant for Muslims only.
Earlier this year, a petition was filed before the Supreme Court of Israel seeking the right for Jews to pray at the site. The court held that “every Jew has the right to pray on the Temple Mount, as part of the freedom of religion and expression. At the same time, these rights are not absolute, and can be limited to take into account the public interest”.