JERUSALEM, Israel -- Should Jews and other non-Muslims be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount? Palestinians, Jordanians and many Muslims say a resounding "No!"
Israel's High Court guarantees freedom of access to the holy plateau, including freedom of worship. But Israeli police prevent Jewish worship and prayer there out of fear of violating public order. Nonetheless, increasing numbers of Israelis are demanding those freedoms and that's leading Palestinians to take to the streets.
Muslims call it Haram al-Shariff, Arabic for Noble Sanctuary. Al-Aksa, which includes the mosque and the entire compound, is the third holiest site in Islam. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas recently appealed to Westerners not to refer to the area as the Temple Mount, but to call it al-Aksa instead. Muslims say they alone are allowed to pray there.
"Muslims, they have to pray, but others -- Christians and Jews -- they can visit, just visit, not to make prayer inside," Kaman, a Muslim resident of Jerusalem, told CBN News. "So it is specified for Muslims and just to visit but not to pray or to cut a piece of the area to pray for others, you know. This is not allowed by God."
For Jews, the Temple Mount is also very sacred. Two Jewish temples stood there in Bible times. Jesus visited, taught and worshipped at the Second Jewish Temple before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Yet Muslims deny it ever existed.
Linda Olmert with Haliba, the Initiative for Jewish Freedom on the Temple Mount says Jews feel closest to God there.
"Archaeology backs up the Bible, which says it's our holiest place. It's the center from the beginning of the Jewish people [and] many think from the beginning of the world. It's the center and that's why we feel closest to God [there]," Olmert told CBN News.
For years, rabbis said it was forbidden for Jews to even set foot on the Temple Mount, let alone pray, because it was the site of the Holy of Holies. Now for the first time, religious and non-religious Jews want their rights to this most holy place.
"We want freedom for everybody to pray on the Temple Mount. Isaiah says it will be a place for all nations," Olmert said.
Two weeks ago, a Palestinian terrorist attempted to assassinate Rabbi Yehuda Glick, Haliba's leader. Glick survived and Israeli security forces later shot and killed the gunman.
" We, as a government, we are against Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount simply because of reasons that have to do with the status quo," Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kupperwasser, director general of the Strategic Affairs ministry, told journalists in Jerusalem Sunday.
Since the 1967 Six-Day War, Jordan has kept religious control over the Temple Mount, while Israel maintains security. Only Muslims can pray there. The current tension at the site prompted Jordan to recall its ambassador from Israel last week.
"We believe that by committing ourselves to the status quo, we help keep the peace and security in Jerusalem," Kuperwasser saus.
But Olmert says it's all about civil rights.
"The only place I know, certainly in Israel, where there is a real violation of civil rights as we have come to expect them in the Western world, in free democratic countries, is against Jews on the Temple Mount," she said.
And Olmert says there's plenty of room there for everyone.
"I really believe that the Messiah will come and I believe that when the Messiah comes, he'll solve all the problems. Until then, I believe that there's a place for all nations on the Temple Mount," she said.