'Muslim provocation in the Jewish Quarter'

Jewish residents of Old City of Jerusalem protest renovation of out-of-use mosque inside the Jewish Quarter.

Hezki Baruch ,

Sidna Omar Mosque next to the Hurva synagogue
Sidna Omar Mosque next to the Hurva synagogue

Jewish residents of the Old City of Jerusalem are protesting the renovation of a mosque in the Jewish Quarter which has been out of use for nearly a century, calling the decision to put the mosque back into use a deliberate provocation.

The Sidna Omar Mosque was built in the 14th century, next to the Ramban synagogue, which was built in the 13th century, on Jewish-owned property, after the owner converted to Islam. The mosque has been out of use since the early 20th century.

Last month, however, the Jordanian-based Waqf, or Islamic trust, which maintains Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, began renovation work on the Sidna Omar Mosque, prompting fears among Jewish residents that the Waqf is looking to reopen the mosque after nearly a century, despite the fact that there is no Muslim population in the vicinity of the mosque.

Speaking with Arutz Sheva, Efraim Holtzberg, who has lived in the Jewish Quarter for four decades, called the move a “provocation” aimed at disrupting Jewish life in the area.

“The opening of the mosque in the Jewish Quarter is the most flagrant violation of the status quo,” said Holtzberg. “The Jewish Quarter is the top Jewish tourist attraction in Jerusalem, with two million tourists each year. Why violate the balance in the Quarter?”

“For almost a century the mosque was abandoned and was not used,” continued Holtzberg. “Putting it back into use is a Muslim provocation. Bringing it back into use would draw large numbers of Arabs into the Jewish Quarter on Friday [the Muslim holy day] and especially on Ramadan, and [Jewish] residents of the Quarter would have to get increased security, and there is always the concern that terror could raise its head.”

“Unfortunately, the government and the City of Jerusalem are asleep at the wheel on this. Just recently, a plan was approved for the Waqf to open a big Islamic center at the end of HaKotel Street which would seriously harm the character of the Jewish Quarter.”

But Shoshana Selavan, chairwoman of the Jewish Quarter administration, said that a senior Waqf official had assured her that despite the renovations, the Sidna Omar Mosque would not be opened for mass prayers, and that the renovations were needed after the building suffered water damage from last year’s rains.

The Sidna Omar Mosque is not the only one in the Jewish Quarter to be renovated, however.

Residents of the Jewish Quarter also expressed concern earlier this year over plans to reopen another long-abandoned mosque, this time on Chabad Street, at the entrance to the Jewish Quarter.

Penina Seidel, the wife of the well-known Jewish outreach organizer Jeff Seidel, has lived in the area for 36 years, and also expressed concerns that the reopening of the mosque could make life difficult in the Jewish Quarter.

“Obviously there are mosques everywhere in the Old City of Jerusalem, we aren’t debating the fact that the city is holy to everyone. But this mosque is located right at the entrance to the Jewish Quarter. After so many years of being out of use, the [mosque] is now in the advanced stages of [renovation], all they have left to do is install the speakers.”

“We see this as an infringement on our privacy and the independent life of the Jewish community in the quarter. The authorities haven’t taken any of our appeals seriously, they just direct us from one office to another.”