2016 High Holidays: Record Numbers of Jewish Visitors on Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif

record number of 3000 non-Muslim visitors ascended the Temple Mount/Haram El Sharif during the Jewish High Holidays this year (October 3 and October 25, including the Jewish New Year celebrations and Sukkot). The significant increase in the number of visitors (compared to previous annual figures) is clearly a change in the delicate ecosystem on the  Temple Mount,  even if it is formally compatible  with the principles of the status quo allowing visits by non-Muslims.

Whether that formal Status Quo is being maintained has become a matter of some dispute. There were mixed reports (see here and here) about the fact that the Israeli police shifted its policy during the holiday season and authorized Jewish visitors to pray quietly or bring inside the four plants related to the observance of Sukkot. Authorizing Jewish prayers at the Temple Mount/Haram el Sharif and the carrying of religious artefacts would constitute a serious breach of the Status Quo and of the Israeli-Jordanian understanding of October 2015.

The main source of the claim that quiet praying has been authorized is apparently the Temple Mount movement itself, which raises doubt about the claim’s veracity – especially given the fact that the Israeli police and the Waqf have both reportedly denied that this was the case. The fact that there are reports indicating that Jewish worshippers were arrested for having prayed on the Temple Mount (see also here) reinforces the conclusion that the policy has not changed.

Notably, the Jewish High Holidays were relatively calm this year on the Temple Mount; no confrontations were reported on the esplanade despite the number of visitors and size of the groups reported.