The Jerusalem district court accepted an appeal submitted by the police on Wednesday against the Jerusalem Magistrate court’s earlier decision 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.
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.”