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The Status Quo Arrangement of the Holy Places


Today, there is a well-recognised arrangement that is often referred to as the ‘Status Quo Arrangement of the Holy Places.' This arrangement was originally established in 1852, when the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Majid issued an edict (firman) freezing all claims of possession by religious communities over Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, thereby forbidding any construction or alterations to occur to their existing status.


Subsequently, this arrangement was internationally recognised at the 1856 Conference of Paris (at the end of the Crimean War) and through the 1878 Treaty of Berlin (between European Powers and the Ottomans). Article 62 of the Treaty of Berlin stated that: “It is well understood that no alterations can be made to the status quo in the Holy Places.” Article 62 extended that arrangement to include all – not only Christian – Holy Places.


Following the defeat of the Ottomans and the partitioning of their Empire after World War I, the British Mandate Authorities in Palestine (1920-1947) upheld the status quo arrangement and included Al-Buraq (Western) Wall at Al-Aqsa Mosque / Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem and Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem.


The first major violation of the Status Quo Arrangement occurred in September 1928, when a group of Jewish worshippers set up chairs at Al-Buraq Wall to separate men and women performing Yom Kippur prayers, triggering one of the first periods of significant unrest in Jerusalem. A subsequent White Paper, submitted to the British government in November 1928, reiterated the rights of Muslims to Al-Buraq Wall. Although unsuccessful in their search for documentary evidence of Jewish rights to Al-Buraq Wall, the Zionist movement continued to demand its expropriation for the Jews.


Disputes over prayer arrangements at Al-Buraq Wall escalated. In August 1929, protests turned violent and resulted in dozens of both Jewish and Arab deaths, as well as injuries of hundreds more. The conclusions of the subsequent British Inquiry Commission, presented in December 1930, included the following:

“Subsequent to the investigation it has made, the Commission herewith declares that the ownership of the Wall, as well as the possession of it and of those parts of its surroundings that are here in question, accrues to the Moslems. The Wall itself as being an integral part of the Haram-esh-Sherif area is Moslem property. From the inquiries conducted by the Commission, partly in the Sharia Court and partly through the hearing of witnesses' evidence, it has emerged that the Pavement in front of the Wall, where the Jews perform their devotions, is also Moslem property.”


Despite the aforementioned, in the course of the 1967 War, Israel forcibly seized control of Al-Buraq Wall, confiscating the key to Al-Magharbeh Gate of Al-Aqsa Mosque / Al-Haram Al-Sharif and destroying Al-Magharbeh Quarter which was located in front of Al-Buraq Wall. In place of Al-Magharbeh Quarter, a large prayer plaza for Jewish worshippers was created which was gradually extended from an area of 66m2 (22m x 3m) to an area of some 6300m2 (90m x 70m).