The Israeli government filed papers to register a swath of land adjacent to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in a move which Palestinians say is a blatant attempt to take over and surround the mosque, with the objective of taking over the mosque completely.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque represents the third-holiest site for the one billion Muslims worldwide, as it is believed by Muslims to be the place where the Prophet Mohammad ascended into heaven.

In what Palestinians are calling a particularly cynical move, Israeli authorities are using funds earmarked for improving the lives of Palestinians in Jerusalem to essentially confiscate land belonging to Palestinians, and take it over for Israel — forcing the Palestinians out.

According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, “The first step in the registration process is the issuance of a public notice to anyone claiming ownership in the area where registration is being carried out, requiring that claimants provide proof of ownership. But for the most part, Jerusalem Palestinians have refused to cooperate out of concern that the Custodian for Absentee Property might claim ownership of all or a portion of it. The law permits the custodian to seize property if it is registered to someone who is or was residing in an enemy country.

“In the last two years, following a 2018 cabinet decision, the official in charge of land registration in Jerusalem, David Rotenberg, began the registration process for a number of parcels in the east of the city. This prompted questions from human rights groups in Jerusalem, planning organizations and Ir Amim, an Israeli nonprofit whose stated mission is to make Jerusalem a more “equitable and sustainable city for the Israelis and Palestinians who share it.”

But Palestinians in Jerusalem have pointed out that this ‘registration process’ over the past two years has resulted in the confiscation of half of the Palestinian land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood by Israeli authorities, in order to rid the land of its Palestinian residents and take it over for Israel.

Palestinian leaders have called this bureaucratic takeover of East Jerusalem a de facto ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian indigenous population.

Israeli authorities have worked over the last several years to take over all the land surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque, with some Israeli officials openly stating that the plan is to encircle the mosque, then take it over and destroy it.

According to Ha’aretz, “As part of the process, the land at the Ophel Archaeological Park, which lies between the City of David National Park and the wall of the Temple Mount, is also being entered in the land registry.

“The registration process in the area could spark protests from the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that administers the mosque compound, and from the Palestinians and the Jordanians, among others.”