A Jerusalem Magistrates court has ruled that a Jewish visitor arrested for saying the phrase “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The nation of Israel lives”) on the Temple Mount was in violation of no laws and ordered his immediate release from police custody. The court also rejected a request by police to effectively ban him from the Temple Mount for fifteen days.
On Wednesday, the visitor, identified as attorney Itamar Ben Gvir, was arrested for responding to a Muslim chanting “Allahu akbar” with the refrain “Am Yisrael Chai”. The arrest came during the intermediate days of the Sukkot festival on the Temple Mount itself, the holiest site in Judaism.
Israeli judges have upheld the Jewish right to prayer on the Temple Mount while allowing the Jordanian Waqf, which has de-facto rule over the site, to enforce its ban on non-Muslim prayer. The ban is generally enacted through the policies of the Israeli police, who, counter to the law, strictly forbid non-Muslim prayer in order to reduce tensions with Arab agitators.
Police routinely arrest and detain Jews accused of praying on the Mount. However, Judge Menachem Hacohen ruled that “Am Yisrael Chai” was not a prayer, and is thus permissible on the Mount as it does not constitute a breach of public order.
Arrest of Itamar Ben Gvir for Saying “Am Yisrael Chai”
Generally, any kind of pro-Israel sentiment is prohibited on the Mount, including the waving of the Israeli flag or the wearing of t-shirts bearing Israeli national symbols. The judge’s ruling emphasized the Jewish right to visit the Mount, which is often curtailed by rioting, Muslim holidays, and the efforts of the Israeli police themselves.
Police had also accused Ben Gvir of disrupting the peace during security checks while entering the Temple Mount complex. Ben Gvir responded by submitting video footage of his entrance onto the Temple Mount in which he asked police why non-Jewish tourists were being allowed free access to the Temple Mount while he and other Jewish visitors were delayed for several hours. The video showed the police refusing to answer his questions.
Ben Gvir said that he had heard an officer cursing him over the police communications devices, and that this same officer was the one who detained him on the Mount.
Judge Hacohen ruled that there was no evidence to support the police claim that Ben Gvir caused a disturbance during his entry to the Mount and that he should be released immediately without any conditions.
Yehudah Glick, founder of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation and noted Temple Mount rights advocate, was saddened and angered by the need for legal interference, telling Breaking Israel News, “Strange that we need interference of the court for the obvious. Step by step, the police are breaking records in going out of their way to put obstacles in the path of Jews on the Temple Mount.”
He added that the episode highlighted the untenable nature of the current status quo on the Temple Mount. “A Jew is cursed and answers back ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ and the police arrest the Jew. Just one more example that emphasizes the absurd situation on the Temple Mount.”
Ben Gvir’s arrest came on the same day that a Jewish teenager was arrested for mumbling a silent prayer on the Mount. The teenager was held in captivity together with Muslim rioters from the mount. His parents reported upon his release that he was mistreated while in detention. According to their report, the teenager was held captive without being offered food or drink for over five hours, and was coerced to sign a document stating that the police had not seized his phone, when in actuality they had.