Israel Police Ask Court to Close Down Temple Mount Building 'Linked to Hamas'

Move is believed to be first time police chief has used provision in new anti-terror law to request closure of structure suspected of being used for terror activities

The Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem's Old City, August 29, 2017.
AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

The police have taken an exceptional step and asked Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to permanently close a building on the Temple Mount they believe is linked to Hamas. The Muslim religious trust (Waqf) that controls the Temple Mount complex refused to appear in court on the matter, following instructions from the Jordanian government.

Leading Jerusalem Muslims on Thursday published a letter harshly condemning the police’s actions.

The building is located near the Old City’s Golden Gate, on the eastern side of the Temple Mount. An organization named the Heritage Committee operated in the building until 2003. It said its activities were of a social, cultural and religious nature, but Israeli security forces say the group has very strong ties to Hamas.

In 2003, Israel closed the building using a closure order that was renewed periodically. The organization’s leaders were arrested, the organization ceased to exist and the building belongs to the Waqf, sources told Haaretz.

Judge Miriam Lifshits issued a temporary injunction last week ordering the building to remain closed until a further decision is made. The State Prosecutor’s Office (Jerusalem District) had filed the request in the name of Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.

Last year, the Knesset passed the so-called anti-terrorism law. One of its clauses allows the police chief to ask a magistrate’s court to issue a closure order for a building that is suspected of being used for terrorist activities. This appears to be the first time the police have used this authority.

The Waqf filed an objection to the police request, saying the Heritage Committee had been disbanded and the building belongs to the Waqf, intended to be used by Muslims visiting the Temple Mount. Alsheich rejected its objection.

The closure order request was based on intelligence information. The request said there was a reasonable basis to believe the building would continue to be used for such activities if it is not closed down, and would be used by Hamas for its activities.

The Jordanian government, which controls the Waqf on the Temple Mount, instructed the religious trust not to attend the court sessions or defend its position concerning the closure order. This is a continuation of the Waqf’s long-standing policy not to recognize the authority of the Israeli authorities and courts over the Temple Mount.

The leaders of the Muslim community in Jerusalem harshly criticized the closure order request in their letter on Thursday. Such an order would change the status quo on the Temple Mount and harm the standing of the Waqf, as well as being a violation of the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, the letter stated.

The signatories – including the director of the Waqf, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and his predecessor – were among the leaders of the protests against installing metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount in July, following a terror attack that killed two Israeli policemen. The metal detectors were removed after a week of largely peaceful protests by Palestinians in the Old City, after they refused to enter the holy site.