Israel Bans 2 Muslim Groups That Protest at Jerusalem Holy Site


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Palestinian supporters of mourabitat demonstrated last week against Israeli plans to forbid the group to enter the compound in Jerusalem that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, or Al Aqsa, and that Jews call the Temple Mount.

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Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel on Monday officially outlawed an organization of Muslim women who chase and shout at Jewish visitors to a contested holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City, along with a less-vocal affiliated group of men.

Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, signed a regulation that accused the two groups of incitement and classified them as illegal, a move that allows for the prosecution of anyone who participates in their activities or finances them, according to a statement from the minister’s office.

The groups, called mourabitoun for the men and mourabitat for the women, which roughly translate to “garrison soldiers,” formed in recent years to assert Palestinian sovereignty over the sprawling compound that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, or Al Aqsa, which is the name of one of two main Islamic shrines there. The 37-acre compound is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest place in Islam, and has been the site of clashes between Muslims and Jewish visitors as well as the Israeli authorities.

The women of mourabitat, founded in 2012, often surround visiting Jews and the Israeli police guarding them, shouting “God is Great” and holding up the Quran, trying to disrupt their visits to the compound.

Israel captured the Old City from Jordan in the 1967 war, but returned administrative oversight of the compound to Jordan. Israel maintains security and has barred non-Muslims from praying there, but there has been a push by some religious Jews and ultranationalist politicians to defy the ban.

The Palestinian groups were formed by the Northern Islamic Movement, a religiously conservative organization based in Israel, amid growing fears by Palestinians that Jews are visiting the Temple Mount as part of an Israeli plan to assert its sovereignty over the site or divide it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly asserted that he has no intention of changing the status quo, but some members of his government have supported the call for open Jewish prayer at the compound.

Mr. Yaalon’s office said he accepted a finding from intelligence officials that the groups were “a main source for incitement and fanning the flames of violence in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.”

“The two organizations aim to erode Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount and change the religious status quo on the site,” the statement from the defense minister’s office said.

Israel has outlawed other organizations, including extremist groups of Jews like the Kach party and Kahane Chai in the 1990s, and, in 2013, groups that carried out so-called price tag acts of vandalism and arson against churches, mosques and Palestinian property, mainly in retaliation for Israeli government and military moves against settlements in the West Bank.

One member of the newly banned Islamic organization who spoke on the condition she be identified only as Mona, for fear of arrest, said she would continue to try to disrupt the visits of religious Jews.

“God willing, I’ll be there tomorrow,” said Mona, who is 57. “We are defending the Aqsa, and our rights to it, because Aqsa is for the Muslims.”

In recent years, Palestinians have come to see the compound as their last real institution in East Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital of a future state.

The brewing tensions in the holy site reflect broader problems throughout Jerusalem, where the Israeli police on Wednesday announced there had been a 53 percent increase in stone-throwing incidents in 2014 from the year before.

Palestinians and their advocates say the tensions reflect increasing discrimination against them in East Jerusalem, where residents struggle to obtain permission to build homes, and have markedly worse educational services and infrastructure than the relatively prosperous Jewish-dominated areas of the city.



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