by Salim Essaid
Jordan is the Custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, a legacy of the Hashemite rulers that dates back to 1924 is now under threat as the U.S. declared the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in late 2017.
The kingdom’s custodianship oversees al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock located in the Old City of East Jerusalem.
A picture taken from the minaret of a mosque shows Palestinian Muslim worshipers praying near the Dome of the Rock on June 26, 2015 (AFP)
The sites hold major significance in Islam; It is believed that the Prophet Muhammad's journey to heaven began at the Dome of the Rock and led him to al-Aqsa where he ascended, marking it today as the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
Both sites rest on the the Noble Sanctuary of Jerusalem which are considered holy sites in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism under different names.
The responsibility of custodianship of these sites passed on from Hashemite king to king led to four major renovations since the 20th century.
Israel along with the Palestinian Authority, Arab League, EU and Turkey formally recognize Jordan’s rule as custodian of the Holy Sites.
Israel committed to the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty along with the Oslo Accords in 1994 to “respect the present and special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem.”
In October 1994, US President Bill Clinton applauds as Jordan's King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin prepare to shake hands before signing the Israeli-Jordanian peace accord at the Wadi Araba crossing (AFP)
Yet the two countries have recently faced-off on the matter, after a two day gun battle that lead to three Palestinian civilians and two Israeli policemen killed at al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel said it would install security devices without Jordan’s permission.
This action by Israel resulted in protests and more clashes until Israel agreed not to install the planned metal detectors and cameras.
Trump’s declaration that the whole of Jerusalem belongs to Israel does not hold legal grounding according to international law, but it threatens the agreed upon role for Jordan to protect its holy sites.
Al Bawaba spoke to the Secretary General of Jordan’s Royal Committee for Jerusalem Affairs about how Trump’s decision has impacted the reality on the ground.
What is the role of the Royal Commission for Jerusalem Affairs?
"The Royal Commission for Jerusalem Affairs monitors Israeli attacks on the Al Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem day by day, hour by hour, and documents it. The Royal Commission for Jerusalem Affairs issued a book in both Arabic and English which covers Israeli attacks since 1967, at the beginning of its occupation (of Jerusalem) until today."
How do you conduct your responsibilities in Jerusalem from Jordan?
"The Royal Committee for Jerusalem Affairs stays in constant communication with stakeholders in Jerusalem, (...) the a Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf (and Islamic Affairs) and the Hashemite Fund for the reconstruction of al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which is supervised by the fund, raising money and supervising projects that are taking place in Jerusalem, financing it and overseeing it. This committee supervising it is called the Reconstruction Committee of the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
(MENAHEM KAHANA /AFP)
This committee seeks out the Ministry of Awqaf which studies what the al-Aqsa Mosque needs. When I say al-Aqsa Mosque, I mean the (full) hundred and forty dunams, not what the media depicts showing the Dome of the Rock and saying it’s al-Aqsa Mosque. This committee supervises the projects and oversees the needs of the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque including the maintenance, the daily follow-up, making decisions and sending its engineers and makes contracts with companies that undertake the maintenance and reconstruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque."
How did Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem affect your duties?
"Sir, the first thing is that President Trump’s decision, which we do not recognize at all, that the international community does not recognize, which means all the international community is with us (...) His Majesty King Abdullah II, before (Trump) took this decision, had the feeling that the American president was going to make this decision and he tried hard to convince him or prevent him from making this decision.
But President Trump is unfortunately strong headed and does not respect the leaders of the international community and does not respect their views at all. He only respects his own personal interests, the interest of the Zionist lobby, and he did not respect the opinion of the American people in the sense of the word.
Jordan will remain the defender of Jerusalem and the Islamic and Christian holy sites, it will remain its sponsor and guardian of it, and will spare no effort in defending it at all international forums and will spare no effort to convince the international community to reverse this unjust American decision. It will spare no effort in the quest for the establishment of a Palestinian state and its capital East Jerusalem until peace and security prevail."
How has this decision threatened your responsibilities?
"Trump’s decision encouraged Israel to expand, it encouraged the… let me say the fools in Israeli politics, it encouraged them to say now is our time to control al-Aqsa Mosque, to fully (control) Jerusalem, and it’s our opportunity to transfer residents to Jerusalem.
It encouraged them to think that it is their opportunity to take advantage of all of Palestine, from the (Dead) sea to the (Jordan) river. (...) but we (Jordanians) will resist all that Israel is doing."
Did anything change on the ground?
"Nothing changed, (...) our sponsorship of the Islamic and Christian holy sites has not changed at all. By no means at all."
What is your official response to Trump's decision?
"I advise the American administration that if they listen to the King, His Majesty King Abdullah II, (...) take his advice and follow his views; if they want security and peace for Israel, to have regional and international security."
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