Hundreds of religious Jews gathered Monday near the reputed scene of Jesus's last supper in Jerusalem demanding that Israel keep sovereignty over King David's Tomb, according to AFP.
Pope Francis will visit the Holy Land from May 24-26 and before returning to Rome is set to hold a mass in the site known as the Upper Room or Cenacle, on Mount Zion near the walls of the Old City. Jews revere the site as the tomb of King David, which is on the ground floor of the same building.
"As soon as they touch the 'status quo' of this place, bad things will happen," said Rabbi Avraham Goldstein, accusing the Israeli government of wanting to hand the Upper Room over to the Vatican.
Sovereignty over the Cenacle, which was renovated by Franciscans in the 14th century before the group was forced out, is a highly sensitive issue. According to AFP, it is - despite rumors to the contrary - currently part of negotiations between Israel and the Vatican which hopes to recover the site.
Israeli President Shimon Peres told an Italian newspaper during a visit to the Vatican last April that a compromise had been reached on the Cenacle, and that "99 percent" of the issues concerning the site had been addressed.
However, no official agreement has been announced.
"When 'the crusaders' come here making the sign of the cross and all kinds of rituals, this place will become idolatrous for us, and we will not have the right to pray there any more," hareidi protestor Yitzhak Batzon told AFP.
Hareidi protesters are planning another demonstration there on May 22 - just three days before the pope is due to arrive in Jerusalem.
Ongoing controversy over King David's Tomb
Concerns over a possible transfer of the property have been raised multiple times over the past several months. Last month, an Israeli diplomatic source told Arutz Sheva that the Israeli government has no intention of transferring control over the site to the Church; those claims were reiterated again Sunday, by the office of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.
However, Rabbi Yaakov Sevilia, an activist for King David's Tomb, told Arutz Sheva that there is a deal in the works - which would see David's Tomb given to Christians, and the Temple Mount to Muslims. He cited journalist Gulio Meotti, who contributes regularly to Arutz Sheva, as the source for this knowledge.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) has also written a stern letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the issue, noting its political significance in terms of Israel's history and heritage.
"It is inconceivable that this place will be transferred to foreign hands, such the Torahs and the Star of David will be swallowed in a sea of crosses," the Deputy Minister wrote.
''Transferring the rights to the gravesite of David to Christian hands would be similar to Moshe Dayan's decision to entrust the keys to the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf."
Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook, Rabbi of Rehovot and member of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, warned recently that the government relinquishing David's Tomb to the Vatican would be a "national disgrace."
He added that the issue has incredible religious implications. "Who knows if this could cause a wave of conversions [to Catholicism]?" he continued. "What will happen in the World to Come when we have to testify [before G-d] and say that we lived in a generation which handed over King David's Tomb? A government who does such a thing is forbidden to belong to the people of Israel, this is an anti-Israeli government."