Last week, the Biden administration’s State Department released its 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom. The section on “Israel, West Bank, and Gaza” covered the violence in Jerusalem in April:
Clashes broke out in April and May with “Day of Rage” demonstrations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem against Israeli actions in Sheikh Jarrah, the Damascus Gate, and the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
It should be noted that the original name of the neighborhood is the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood. Several houses in the surrounding neighborhood near the Tomb of Shimon HaTzadik (Simeon the Just) were originally purchased in 1876 by the committee of the Sephardic community and the Ashkenazi Assembly of Israel. In 1947, the invading Jordanian Army forced the Jews out of their homes. Under Jordanian rule, these properties moved under the jurisdiction of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property and rent was collected. Soon after Israel unconquered the area in 1967, the families of the original owners petitioned the courts to return their homes. Arab squatters who had no claim of ownership refused to move out and refused to pay rent. The courts ruled in favor of the Jewish families resulting in ongoing violent Arab riots.
The “clashes” cited in the State Department report were between Palestinian rioters and Israeli police.
The report then discussed the issue of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount:
According to local media, some Jewish groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount despite the ban on non-Islamic prayer. The Israeli government reiterated that overt non-Islamic prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. NGOs, media, and Jewish Temple Mount advocacy groups continued to report that in practice, police generally allowed discreet non-Muslim prayer on the site. The news website Al-Monitor reported in October that although the country’s two chief rabbis repeatedly said Jews were not to set foot in the Temple Mount out of concern they could inadvertently step into an area which, in Jewish law, it was forbidden to enter unless one was ritually pure. In recent years, some Jews had entered the mosque and tried to offer prayers. The [Israeli] government reiterated that non-Islamic prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the site, but non-Muslim visitors were allowed. Some religious minority groups said the police were not interested in investigating attacks on members of their communities… Some Jewish individuals and groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount despite the longstanding historical norms against overt non-Islamic prayer there.
The report also describes efforts by US officials to persuade the Israeli government to prevent Jews from praying at the site in an absurdly self-contradictory paragraph:
In meetings with Israeli government officials, the Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. embassy officials stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups… Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and conveyed this message in meetings with government officials. Throughout the year, embassy officials used social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.
“Status quo” regarding Jerusalem refers to a firman (decree) of Ottoman sultan Osman III in 1757 that preserved the division of ownership and responsibilities of various Christian holy places. The details were further formalized in the 1949 United Nations Conciliation Commission after the 1947–1949 Palestine war. It should be noted that when Jordan illegally occupied Jerusalem, Hebron, and Bethlehem in 1948, Jews were barred from the holy sites in contravention of the status quo.
It should be noted that 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. This ruling is based on legally protected freedom of religion.
In any case, it is clearly absurd for the US State Department to call for “religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups” while also calling for “maintaining the historic status quo” which prohibits Jewish prayer at their holiest site due to Palestinian violence.