A Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge said Wednesday that the police should allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount – an exceptional remark given that the High Court of Justice has ruled that policy on the Temple Mount is the sole purview of the police.
Police currently enforce the Muslim ban on Jewish prayer at the site, citing security concerns.
“There is room to allow for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount,” said Judge Malka Aviv, during a remand hearing for Hagai Weiss, the son of Prof. Hillel Weiss, who was arrested on suspicion of trying to pray at the site.
She added that “the [police] explanation that Muslims don’t approve of Jews praying on the Temple Mount cannot, in and of itself, prevent Jews from fulfilling their religious obligations and praying on the Temple Mount.”
To her mind, she said, Jewish prayer should be permitted on the Temple Mount “in a structured fashion, in a place designated for it,” that would maintain the security of Jewish worshipers.
It should be noted that despite her clear, unequivocal statements, Aviv was not instructing the police how to act, but merely expressing her opinion.
Fifteen Jews have been arrested over the past few days for trying to pray on the Temple Mount, including right-wing activist Moshe Feiglin, who was arrested Tuesday.
Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, has been a bone of contention every since Israel gained control of the Six Day War in 1967, but decided to leave the administration of the mount in the hands of the Jerusalem Wakf, or Islamic trust, which bans non-Muslim worship in the compound.
When in August 1967 Rabbi Shlomo Goren wanted to lead a group of Jews onto the mount to pray, the Eshkol government convened and passed Regulation 761, under which worshipers would be directed to the Western Wall and discouraged from accessing the Temple Mount.
Many rabbis forbid going up to the mount, lest worshipers inadvertently step on the site of the Holy of Holies, the ancient Temple’s inner sanctum.
But other groups believe that the probable location of the Holy of Holies is known and can be avoided, and have thus repeatedly petitioned for the right of Jews to pray at the holy site. The last petition to the High Court of Justice on this issue was in 2006.
During that hearing, former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch stated that “Jewish prayer should not be prevented unless there is concrete information about actual danger to life” or the security of the worshipers, but left the Israel Police as the final authority on the matter.
What many right-wing and religious groups such as the Temple Mount Faithful claim is that no matter what the timing or the circumstances, the police never agree to secure Jewish prayer at the site.
“The same way there’s an arrangement at the Tomb of the Patriarchs [which is made totally accessible to Jews on certain holidays], let there be an arrangement on the Temple Mount,” says Yehuda Glick, chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation. “Especially during the holidays. It can’t be that the mount is closed off so much during the holiday, when people come from all over the country. Every time the police come up with some other excuse.”
Groups promoting visits to the Temple Mount believe that the arrests in recent days have brought things to a head. Most of those arrested, including Feiglin, deny police allegations that they were “violating the custom of the place.”
“There’s a humiliating policy of the Israel Police that’s based on a lie from beginning to end,” said Feiglin, after he was released by the magistrate’s court, which rejected a police request to distance him from the Temple Mount. “There’s a policy of arresting people who go up on the mountain without doing anything. I told them [the police] that just as I went up to the mount this morning a free man, so I will go up in the future.”
In the days before Feiglin was arrested, there were reports on Palestinian websites that he planned to go up to the Temple Mount and cause a provocation.
During Hol Hamo’ed some 20 Muslims were also arrested on suspicion they attempted to attack Jews who were touring the site.
On Thursday, police barred Jews from the site, after receiving reports that Muslims planned to throw stones at Jews that came up to the compound. After police forces were stoned, the Temple Mount was totally closed for a short period.
Following the recent tensions, groups involved with the Temple Mount have called on supportive MKs to intervene on their behalf.
MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) has drafted a bill mandating separate hours for Jews and Muslims to pray at the holy site.