Court Rejects Petition Requesting Access for Jews to Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day

Petition was filed following changes in hours allowing Jews to visit Temple Mount during Ramadan

A crowd of flag waving Israelis dance as they enter , through Damascus Gate, in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, in 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Supreme Court has rejected a petition filed by Temple Mount activists, leaving a decision on whether to allow Jews access to the compound on Jerusalem Day up to the police. 

The petition was filed following changes in the hours in which the Temple Mount was open to Jews and tourists during the month of Ramadan.

Throughout this month, visits are allowed only in the morning and not at noon, contrary to the custom during the rest of the year. Over the last ten days of the month [considered the holiest by Muslims], there will be no access at all to non-Muslims.

Palestinians pray on the first Friday of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City May 10, 2019.
\ Ammar Awad/ REUTERS

For the first time in 30 years, Jerusalem Day falls on the last three days of Ramadan. Temple Mount activists therefore petitioned the court to instruct the police to open the compound to Jews.

Over the last few years, Jerusalem Day has become a peak day of Jewish visits to the Mount. In response to the petition, police said that the custom is to refuse access to Jews during those days, but that a final decision had not been made. State prosecutors submitted a further response on Wednesday, following a demand made by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

The updated response said that “following discussions by Minister Erdan and police commanders, they wish to clarify that their position remains that everything must be done in order to enable Jews and members of other religions to visit Temple Mount as is customary throughout the year, including on Jerusalem Day.”

Palestinian men protest in front of Israeli border police officers as Israelis enter Jerusalem's Old City through Damascus Gate during a march celebrating Jerusalem Day, Sunday, May 17, 2015.
Mahmoud Illean / AP

Attorney Aviad Visouli, representing the petitioners, asked the High Court to instruct the police not to automatically close the compound but to assess specific local circumstances, so that only if there were real risks involved in its opening would it be closed.

Justices Yosef Elron, Hanan Melcer and Ofer Grosskopf rejected the petition. “Do you expect us to replace the judgement of the police and tell it what the right course of action is?” asked Justice Grosskopf.

The head of the panel, Justice Melcer, reprimanded the state for changing its position, based on the announcement made on Wednesday. “It is undignified when you issue a declaration that changes what was stated before. I realize it’s not the police and I’ll say this delicately - you should have done your homework earlier.” 

Earlier in the hearing Justice Melcer made an exceptional comment to attorney Visouli. The latter had given an interview that morning and Melcer assailed him for that, saying that according to a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Haim Cohen in 1988, one cannot give interviews relating to submitted petitions – this alone could be cause for denying the petition.

“An attorney cannot go on radio and talk about the petition, saying what the judges must do. It’s inconceivable” said Melcer. It should be noted that lawyers constantly give interviews relating to petitions they submit, particularly on public issues such as this one. Visouli wished to reply but Melcer refused to allow him to do so.