What is Jerusalem's contentious holy site Temple Mount?


Known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), the holy site has long been a center of contention between Palestinians and Israelis.

Located in Jerusalem’s Old City, the entire compound includes the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, several gates, fountains and open areas. It is from the Al-Aqsa Mosque that Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to the heavens. 

For the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims, it is the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. For Palestinians, it is also symbol of their struggle for a state andIsrael’s military occupation.

Competing claims 

The Temple Mount is believed by Jews to be the site of two biblical temples. It is Judaism’s holiest site, but Jews are not allowed to pray there. It is located above the Western Wall, part of an old temple and the holiest site where Jews can pray.

A view of Jerusalem shows the Western Wall (L), the Dome of the Rock (C) and the al-Aqsa Mosque (R).

A view of Jerusalem shows the Western Wall (L), the Dome of the Rock (C) and the al-Aqsa Mosque (R).

Israel occupied the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in an act not recognized under international law.  Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state.

However, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif remained under the administration of the Islamic Waqf (endowment) and custodianship of Jordan, whose Hashemite leaders claim a direct line of descent to the Prophet.

Jews and tourists are allowed to visit the holy site, but only Muslims are allowed to pray.

Changing the status quo?

Palestinians have long accused the Jewish nationalist right-wing of seeking to undo the so-called status quo, a series of arrangements that give Muslims considerable administrative autonomy over the compound.

These actions include allowing “illegal Israeli settler leaders, along with other Israeli extremists, to invade the Al-Aqsa compound escorted by Israeli Police,”according the Palestinians.

Palestinian concerns are aggravated by frustration over the larger issue of continued Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and military occupation. 

The Israeli government has repeatedly stated it has no intention of undoing the status quo.  It has also accused the Palestinians of over-exaggeration and incitement over issues surrounding the mosque compound.

Standoffs over the holy site, such as the implementation of metal detectors, have raised concern it could unleash a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Over the years, there have been repeated Palestinian protests and clashes with Israeli police over the holy site.

The second intifada was triggered in 2000 after former Israeli President Ariel Sharon visited the holy compound.