Dome of the Rock, Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem

Access has been controlled and contested for thousands of years in the Old City.

Dome of the Rock, Seen from the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem 2011

© Leslie Hossack

The world’s three great monotheistic religions have sacred sites in the Old City, and access has been controlled and contested for thousands of years. The Dome of the Rock, a Muslim Mosque built in 691 CE, sits atop the Foundation Stone on the Temple Mount. Seen here, the golden dome glows in the sunshine. In 1993, King Hussein of Jordan donated $8.2 million to fund 80 kilograms of gold to cover the dome.

On 29 November 1947, the United Nations passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State. The State of Israel was declared on 14 May 1948, the day the British Mandate in Palestine ended. From 1948 to 1967, Jordan controlled East Jerusalem, and Israelis could not go to the Western Wall. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied the Old City, but allowed the Muslim Religious Trust to manage “Haram al-Sharif” (the Temple Mount).

Since 1967, Jews have been able to visit the Western Wall. Today, anyone wishing to enter the Western Wall plaza must pass through strict airport style security. Visitors to Haram al-Sharif must pass through similar, but separate, security checks; however, men and women in immodest dress are not granted entrance. Non-Muslim visitors are not permitted to pray there or to enter the Dome of the Rock.

Life in Israel seems to revolve around issues of access and security in public spaces, both sacred and secular – from the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, to shopping malls and parking garages.

Gazing at the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

“Who is the owner of the language of this land? Who loves it more?

Woman Gazing at the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem 2011

© Leslie Hossack

Located inside the Old City, the golden Dome of the Rock is situated within the walls of the Temple Mount, a holy place for Muslims and Jews. Covering an area of 35 acres, the Temple Mount remains under the control of Muslim religious authorities; however, responsibility for security was taken over by Israelis after their occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

In this photograph, the woman gazing at the Dome of the Rock is standing near the top of the Mount of Olives, looking out over the Jewish cemetery immediately beneath her. Across the valley, the Yusefiya Muslim Cemetery lies outside the walls of the Old City.

Muslims make up approximately 16% of the Israeli population while Jews make up 75% of the total population currently estimated at 7,746,000. Over 700,000 Palestinians are citizens of Israel, living inside the country’s 1949 armistice borders. About 1.2 million live in the West Bank (including 200,000 in East Jerusalem) and about one million in the Gaza Strip. (Middle East Research and Information Project) Israel is a place of complexities and inequities.

Mahmoud Darwish was widely regarded as the Palestinian national poet. He admired Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai, but described his poetry as a “challenge to me, because we write about the same place. He wants to use the landscape and history for his own benefit, based on my destroyed identity. So we have a competition: who is the owner of the language of this land? Who loves it more? Who writes it better?”