In 1967, shortly after the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem, Moshe Dayan ordered the Israeli flag removed from the Dome of the Rock, and worked out the current arrangement for the Temple Mount, whereby the Western Wall and the plaza in front of it is reserved for Jewish prayer, and the mount itself is exclusively designated for Muslim prayer. This has led to the bizarre situation where Israeli security officers closely monitor the lips of Jewish visitors to make sure that they aren’t reciting surreptitious prayers. Alan Baker examines how this came to be:
The current issues beleaguering any hope of achieving tranquility in Jerusalem are based on an age-old Ottoman “status quo” governing custodianship, worship, and visits to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. This status quo was first established in 1757 and formalized by Ottoman imperial decrees (firmans) issued by Sultan Abdul Mejid in 1852 and 1856, freezing claims by religious communities in Jerusalem and Bethlehem to Christian holy places and forbidding any construction or alterations to their existing status.
The prohibition on Jews’ ascending to the Temple Mount area had existed . . . during Mameluke rule (1250–1516) and was maintained under the Ottomans (1516–1917). It received international acknowledgment at the end of the Crimean War at the 1856 Paris Conference, and following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 in the 1878 Treaty of Berlin (between European powers and the Ottomans), Article 62 of which determined that: “it is well understood that no alterations can be made to the status quo in the Holy Places.”
The same Article 62 extended that arrangement to include all—not only Christian—holy places, freezing claims by religious communities in Jerusalem and Bethlehem to Christian sacred sites and forbidding any construction or alterations to their existing status.
As Baker notes, the current situation flies in the face of all the principles of religious toleration and non-discrimination on which modern international law is built. Yet the numerous diplomats and institutions who see it as their duty to hold Israel to the demands of international law have never complained about its enforcement of the Temple Mount status quo.
Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
More about: International Law, Ottoman Empire, Temple Mount