A blow to religious freedom?
A blow to religious freedom?Flash 90

The Palestinian Authority (P) Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash and the former Chief Justice of the PA's Religious Court both recently declared that the PA's Islamic belief and political position is that Jews are prohibited from praying at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Palestinian Media Watch has documented that the PA denies Israel's history and rights in Jerusalem, but these statements by top religious leaders go even further.

The PA claims that the area of the Muslim holy site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, includes not only the mosque itself, but extends over the entire Temple Mount and includes Judaism's holy site – the Western Wall, or Kotel.

PA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash:

"Jerusalem is religion's trust and history's trust in the hands of all Muslims, in the hands of this Ummah (Islamic Nation)... The Al-Buraq Wall (i.e., the Western Wall of the Temple Mount) is an authentic part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque only." [Official PA TV, Dec. 6, 2013]

Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi, former Chief Justice of the PA's Religious Court:

"The Al-Aqsa Mosque includes all its courtyards, foundations, skies, gates, domes, walls, and specifically, its western wall (Al-Buraq Wall), [parentheses in source], which is, after all, a part of it..."

[Al-Hayyat Al-Jadida, Feb. 17, 2014]

Accordingly, both PA religious leaders proclaim in the name of Islam that Jews are prohibited from praying at the Western Wall.

"Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi, former Chief Justice of PA Religious Court:

"Allah decreed that the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque is Islamic and belongs to Muslims alone... It is part of the religious belief of a billion and a half Muslims, and the Jews have no right to it. No party, no matter how much power and international support it has, can change this established fact by giving the Jews any right to it, or the right to pray in any part of it. The Al-Aqsa Mosque includes all its courtyards... and specifically, its western wall." [Al-Hayyat Al-Jadida, Feb. 17, 2014]

The Minister of Religious Affairs clarified last month that he holds the same extreme opinion. In December his religious teaching about the PA prohibiting or permitting Jews to pray at the Western Wall was somewhat ambiguous. He started his talk with the radical PA view that "Jerusalem is religion's trust and history's trust in the hands of all Muslims," and that the Western Wall "is an authentic part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque only... it is our right, it is our permanent right." He then moderated his statement: "... without harming the rights of others. Freedom of worship in our Jerusalem is guaranteed to all". But then he reversed again: "We do not dispute anyone's religion. Nonetheless, we have rights, principles and positions that cannot possibly be altered." [Official PA TV, Dec. 6, 2013]

The ambiguity of Minister Al-Habbash's December sermon was clarified last month, when he was explicit about the prohibition:

"The Al-Aqsa Mosque will remain, by divine decree, a Muslim mosque, will not be shared with anyone, will not be forfeited, and no one besides Muslims will pray in it." [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Feb. 28, 2014]

Yesterday, the highest religious authority in the PA, PA Mufti Muhammad Hussein, "emphasized our previous religious rulings" in response to what he called Israel's "attempt... at lay[ing] hands on the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque... [and] in addition to the threat of destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque to establish the alleged Temple on its ruins." He reiterated that only the Palestinians have a right to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings:

"The plazas, walls, buildings, courtyards, domes, colonnades and stone benches of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, everything underneath the Al-Aqsa Mosque and everything above it, are waqf (an inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law) until Judgment Day, and the Palestinians have an exclusive right to them, which they share with no one." [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 26, 2014]

The religious belief that Jerusalem must only be Muslim is also the PA's political demand. Palestinian Media Watch reported on Mahmoud Abbas' declaration that taking Jerusalem from Israel is an Islamic obligation of the highest level, a "fard ayn" - a personal Islamic commandment incumbent on every Muslim:

"I say to the leaders of our Arab nation and to its peoples: Jerusalem and its environs are a trust that Allah entrusted to us. Saving it from the settlement monster and the danger of Judaization and [land] confiscation is a personal [Islamic] commandment incumbent on all of us."

[Al-Jazeera TV, March 27, 2010]

Recently, Abbas said that Jewish history in Jerusalem is Israel's "delusional myth." In an op-ed, PMW reviewed the PA's policy of refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.