Israeli Court Drops Charges Against Beggar Banned From Western Wall

Judge says the order issued by the rabbi in charge of holy places exceeds his authority and insults the man’s dignity

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Men praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, this March.
Men praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, this March.Credit: Emil Salman
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

A Jerusalem court has ordered charges to be dropped against a beggar whose presence at the Western Wall the police said was in violation of an order issued by the rabbi in charge of holy places, Shmuel Rabinowitz, banning him from the site.

Last week Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly ruled that Rabinowitz had exceeded his authority by banning the man for a lengthy period, and had insulted his dignity.

The beggar, a 48-year-old from Hadera, was caught breaking the law against begging at the Western Wall in 2019 – an infraction punishable by up to six months in prison. Rabinowitz, authorized according to regulations on the protection of the holy places to “ban a person who disrupts him in the fulfilment of his duties,” barred the man from the Western Wall for 60 days. But three weeks later, the man was seen at the site again.

When questioned by the police, he told them that he was not a beggar, but had come to pray. Four months later the police charged him with violating the ban, the maximum penalty for which is two years’ imprisonment. The police are now handling at least three other cases involving the same infraction.

Shmuel Rabinowitz, Israel's rabbi in charge of holy places, in 2018.Credit: מוטי מילרוד

The beggar’s lawyer, Keren Ablin-Hertz from the public defender’s office, claimed that Rabinowitz’s authority to bar someone from the site should only be allowed to be applied in a limited way. On Friday, the judge accepted Ablin-Hertz’s argument and ruled that the facts in the indictment do not reflect a violation of the law.

“Barring a person from a holy place like the Western Wall plaza insults the dignity of the individual banned, who often spends many hours in the plaza,” Lary-Bavly wrote. She added that banning the man was a violation of his basic rights and should be clearly and specifically authorized by law. “More than once we deal with beggars who bother others, but a prolonged ban insults their dignity, which in any case is impaired because they are beggars, and in certain cases this insult could reach the level of humiliation in terms of telling that person, ‘You are not wanted here.’”

Ablin-Hertz said in response: “Issuing bans against beggars harms the basic rights of people on the margins of society. This man is a poor and simple man, who lives hand to mouth, and the authorities found it appropriate to oppress him even more instead of investing resources in rehabilitating him.”

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