On a recent morning, a small group of Jewish men dressed in black and white stood on Judaism's holiest site, softly praying until being told to move on by Israeli police.
The men would have been arrested not that long ago for breaking a time-honored unofficial agreement between Israeli and Islamic religious authorities. The agreement forbids non-Muslims from praying on the site that is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
Jewish prayer at the site has become more commonplace after a lengthy campaign to change the unofficial "status quo." Israel's new government could soon make it routine.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the new conservative government is set to enact an agenda that, among other things, would possibly allow Jews to pray freely at the Temple Mount and establish Israeli control over a site that for centuries has been controlled by Muslims.
"We can now fundamentally change things that have stood for many, many years," Arnon Segal, a Temple Mount activist, told the outlet. "This is a time of great promise."
New Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the site last week, in a move that both his supporters and detractors viewed as one step closer to fulfilling his campaign promise of changing the status quo.
In his position, Ben-Gvir will have control over the police, who are tasked with enforcing the status quo. The Journal reports that the national security minister has said that the policy banning Jewish prayer is racist and has called for "total [Israeli] sovereignty" over the hilltop.
According to the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank, support for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount grew to 50% among Israelis last year, compared with 30% in 2016.
Mustafa Abu Sway, an Islamic scholar and professor at Al Quds University in Jerusalem, said that Palestinian Muslims oppose attempts to allow worship by other faiths at the site and believe any change to the unofficial agreement could cause them to lose complete control of it.
"This is part of our faith, people take it very seriously," he told the Journal. "The ramifications will be felt all over the world."
Ben-Gvir and other Temple Mount activists have spoken of worship at the site in terms of religious equality. The Temple Mount, for them, is the home of two destroyed ancient Jewish temples and some want to build a third temple there.
"Why are Arabs permitted to worship and Jews forbidden?" Ben-Gvir told the Journal shortly before the Nov. 1 election. "I want equal rights."
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