Thousands of Jews, religious, secular and ultra-Orthodox as well as non-Jewish tourists, gathered on Monday morning at the Western Wall to participate in the traditional priestly blessing during the chol hamoed period of the festival of Passover.
They came to be blessed at the holy site by the priests, descendents of the tribe of Levi, twice during the prayer services of Shaharit and Mussaf.
Opposite the worshippers stand hundreds of priests who cover themselves with their prayer shawls and recite the “triple blessing” which is written in the Torah. “May God bless and protect you, shine his face upon you and educate you and grant peace upon you.” In Israel, the blessing is said during every morning service in which more than one priest participates. However, the days of Passover enable people to visit the Western Wall and receive a blessing from hundreds of priests simultaneously.
The area is heavily protected by dozens of policemen and Border Policemen, many of whom are volunteers, who are positioned along the path from Jaffa Gate. Due to the hot temperatures, Magen David Adom paramedics (MDA) have also been stationed with large quantities of water and drinks.
The Western Wall - the remains of the biblical temple - is one of the holiest sites for Jews and stands adjacent to the Temple Mount compound which is also holy to Jewish worshippers. However, Jewish visits to the Temple Mount have long been at the center of controversy given that they are forbidden to pray there and can be removed for doing so. Indeed, during a visit on Monday morning three Jewish visitors were removed for praying there but regular visits were permitted to proceed as usual. A total of 842 people, of whom 638 were tourists, visited the Temple Mount over the course of the day.
Tensions surrounding the Jewish visits were heightened further on Sunday when the Jordanian government warned that “serious consequences” could arise from what it described as "the invasion of settler groups and Israeli occupying forces in the Al-Aqsa mosque." Jordanian Minister for Media Affairs and government spokesperson Mohammad al-Momani said that what Israel and the Jewish visitors ascending Temple Mount are doing is acting against Muslim worshippers in the mosque and is a breach of law and international trust.
Al-Momani further demanded that the Israeli authorities immediately stop the visits and prevent the entry of Jews and Israeli security forces to the compound. Moreover, he demanded that Israel allow Palestinian worshippers to enter the mosque and perform their ritual practices.