Jun 27, 2022
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On Monday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s court ruled in favor of three young Jewish men who the police had barred from the Temple Mount for bowing to God and reciting the ‘Shema.’  Judge Zion Saharay said that he did not consider bowing down and reciting a prayer sufficient cause to curtail freedom of religion for fear it would cause a disturbance at the site.

Court Ruling

The teens were arrested last week and given a 15-day restraining order prohibiting them from entering the Old City of Jerusalem. In the application for the restrictive conditions, the police claim that their conduct may lead to a violation of public order. The teens filed an appeal against the order.

It should be noted that the Torah commands Jews to prostrate themselves on the Temple Mount, and it is strictly forbidden for a Jew to prostrate himself in prayer in any other location.

In his ruling on the appeal on Sunday, the judge wrote,  “In my opinion, it is not possible to say that bowing and reciting Shema holds a reasonable suspicion of conduct that may lead to a breach of peace, as required by law. It is difficult to imagine a situation in which shouting ‘Shema Yisrael’ on the Temple Mount would constitute a criminal offense of an act that could lead to a breach of the peace.” 

The judge also cited a statement made by Police Chief Kobi Shabtai last May when he vowed to “ensure freedom of religion for “all residents of the country and the territories” at the Temple Mount.

“A public statement made by the head of police that clearly suggests that all residents of the country are allowed to enter the Temple Mount and pray there is an invitation for anyone interested in doing so to come,” the judge wrote. The judge noted that “under these circumstances… When the appellants conduct themselves in accordance with the public call of the police commissioner and according to the Law on the Protection of Holy Places, they cannot be suspected of committing a criminal offense.”

Saharay criticized the police for limiting the teenagers’ access to the site. “This constitutes a disproportionate infringement on their freedom of movement, which is a fundamental constitutional right,” the judge said.

The judge emphasized that his ruling concerned the restraining order barring the youths from the Temple Mount, and he was not ruling on the issue of non-Muslim prayer at the site.

“This [decision] does not intervene with the police’s job in enforcing public order at the Temple Mount, nor does it determine anything regarding freedom of worship at the Temple Mount. These matters are not discussed in the decision at all,” Saharay wrote.

Police reject court ruling.

Police sources responded to the ruling, saying that the judge had intentionally misrepresented Shabtai’s statements to support his ruling.

“The court ruling is based on statements made by the police commissioner when in practice, he wasn’t talking about the Temple Mount,” an unnamed police official was quoted as saying.

“When the commissioner speaks about freedom of worship, he does not refer to the Temple Mount, where the status quo determined by government policy and High Court rulings over the years is maintained,” the police official added. “This is a case of a distorted interpretation of his remarks.”

Attorney Nati Rom, who filed the petition on their behalf, thanked Saharay and said it was time for the police to stop targeting law-abiding citizens.

“It’s about time that the Israel Police began enforcing the law… and defending the residents of Jerusalem, rather than dealing with esoteric issues, while violating the freedom of religion of Jews at the Temple Mount,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s office released a statement saying that no changes were planned in the status quo on the Temple Mount.

“There is no change, nor is any change planned, on the status quo of the Temple Mount,” the statement said. “The Magistrate Court’s decision is focused exclusively on the issue of the conduct of the minors brought before it and did not constitute a broader determination regarding the freedom of worship on the Temple Mount. With regard to the specific criminal case in question, the government was informed that the state will file an appeal to the District Court.”

Police still preventing Jews from praying

Temple Mount activist Tom Nisani from Beyadenu reacted to the ruling with optimism.

“There is no law preventing Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, and the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Jewish prayer several times,” Nisani said. “Today, another judge instructed the police to enforce this and desist from actively preventing Jews from exercising their legally mandated religious freedom. This is another step on the road to returning our holiest site to the nation of Israel.”

Despite his initial optimism, Nisani reported that the police continue to prohibit any expression of Jewish devotion on the Temple Mount despite the court ruling. On Monday morning, police instructed Jews entering the Temple Mount that “no religious expression of any sort will be tolerated.”

One young man who prostrated himself was removed, and another man was removed for praying.

Rabbi Glick: Court should focus on illegal rock-throwing

There is no law prohibiting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and Israeli law ensures freedom of religion. This law has been upheld several times in the Supreme Court, defending the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, most notably in a 2014 Magistrate’s Court case brought by Rabbi Yehudah Glick. The police banned him from visiting the site for two years because of video evidence of him praying there. Despite winning the case, the courts permit the security forces to take security considerations into account when deciding whether to allow non-Muslim prayer there.

Rabbi Glick, head of the Shalom Jerusalem Organization, criticized the court ruling for focusing on the wrong issue.

“The court ruled what they always rule, what they have to rule, which is that Jews have equal religious freedom and that the Temple Mount is part of Israel,” Rabbi Glick said. “But they are trying to dance between the raindrops without getting wet. At the same time, they turn the real decision-making power over to the police. And the police always say there is a danger from Jewish prayer.”

“But this is the less important part. All of the discussion is about whether Jewish prayer is allowed. The discussion should be about whether rock-throwing and incitement at the Temple Mount are allowed. That is the more important question. For 55 years, Israel has been closing its eyes and allowing this to happen.”

“The police consider it a successful Ramadan if no one is killed. Toward this end, they work to stop Jewish prayer. Prayer doesn’t kill. Stones kill. The violence on the Temple Mount is not just one person, and the police are not focusing on the violence. The Muslims filled up the mosque with rocks. This is not just the responsibility of the police. It is the responsibility of the Israeli government, the Muslim leadership, the Jordanian leaders, and even Joe Biden.”

Toward this end, Rabbi Glick is running a campaign to promote universal prayer on the Temple Mount and an end to violence at the holy site.

“God gave us a gift 55 years ago, and we cannot tolerate one more day of the holiest site becoming a center of violence,” Rabbi Glick said. 

Jordan: Temple Mount is only for Muslims

Jordan responded by claiming the Jerusalem court decision was “null and void.” Jordan’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Haitham Abu Al-Foul told Xinhua News  that the decision “lacks legal status under international law. The site is “a place of worship for Muslims only.” He also stated that the Jordan-run Waqf is the only institution for administering the affairs of the holy site.

“The decision allows extremists to hold ceremonies at the Al-Aqsa compound,” a statement issued by the Jordanian foreign ministry read.