The renovation of a mosque on the boundary of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem has local residents worried. They warn that the imminent reopening of the mosque, which lay empty for years, is a provocation that could harm the status quo in the politically fragile neighborhood.
The mosque is located at the entrance to the Jewish Quarter, close to its border with the Armenian Quarter.
"I've been living in this neighborhood for 31 years. We have no problem with the mosque itself, it's been there forever," says Jewish Quarter resident Shoshana Se-Lavan. "But if it resumes operations, it will be a provocation. There are no Arabs living in this area, it's like us building a synagogue in the middle of the Muslim Quarter."
"No one informed us about the renovations in advance, we live here quietly with (all) people and look for no kind of trouble, but the green lights they installed there this week shine into our homes, and if they install loud speakers for the call to prayer it will upset our daily lives."
Pnina Seidel has been living in the Jewish Quarter for the past 36 years, and paints a similar picture: "Of course that there are mosques everywhere in the Old City and around Jerusalem, we aren't arguing with the fact that the city is holy for everybody. But that mosque is right at the entrance to the Jewish Quarter. It's been inactive for so many years and now everything there is ready to go, they just have the speakers to install."
Seidel said she wants the authorities to take charge of the situation, but that every attempt the community has made to get their attention went unanswered. "We see it as something that damages the community's privacy and independent life in the Jewish Quarter," she added.
The Masjid Ad Disi (Al-Disi Mosque) is located on Chabad Street, and despite the inscription on its entrance that says "the Islamic Waqf Office," meaning its revenues woud go to Muslim public welfare projects, the Israel Police say the building is in private hands, and thus its owners can renovate freely.
Rabbi Efraim Holtzberg of the Old City's rabbinical council sent a letter to Jerusalem's chief of police, asking him to intervene. "The public is simmering, they fear loudspeakers will be installed (for the five times daily call to prayer) in an area with no Muslim inhabitants. It's a clear provocation meant to break the peace and harm the public wellbeing."
The Jewish Quarter's rabbis fear that if the police doesn't halt the re-opening of the Al-Disi Mosque, other abandoned mosques around the Old City might be next, including one that is right next door to the famous 18th century Hurva Synagogue, a venue that draws many Jewish visitors.
The Jerusalem Municipality said in response: "Following a complaint we received a few days ago about the building of a room on the roof (of the mosque), we considered the matter and demolished the room. The Jerusalem Municipality will continue to preserve the status quo in the city and won't allow any kind of actions against it."