Israeli police only allowed Muslim worshippers to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque last week if they agreed to hand over their ID cards to police – in violation of the law and the right to freedom of worship.
The incident took place hours after the end of clashes between police and Palestinians at the mosque last Thursday. A group of young men, some from East Jerusalem and others from Arab towns in Israel, stood in line to deposit their ID cards with the police as a condition for entering the mosque to pray.
Those asked to deposit their ID cards are men aged 17 to 45. Older and disabled worshippers were not required to do so.
Those who refused were not admitted, and those who did comply received a piece of paper with a number so they could get their ID cards back later. The policemen placed the cards on a small table at the entrance of the mosque.
According to testimony collected by Haaretz, this procedure has been used since at least 2015. A resident of Jerusalem’s Old City said that it is usually employed during periods of tension, and during Passover it was the practice almost every day.
According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the procedure undermines the rights of worshippers. The police have no legal authority to demand that anyone deposit an identity document as a condition for entering the Temple Mount, where the mosque is situated.
“I gave in my ID card at the Gate of the Tribes [one of the gates at the Temple Mount] and when I came to take it back they sent me to a different gate,” said Jamal Wahidi from the south of the country. “It took me about 40 minutes until I found the right gate, I didn’t know what they wanted with the card, but I gave it without asking because I wanted to enter the mosque after a long trip and I was fasting.”
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Ahmed Maarouf, a resident of East Jerusalem who often prays at Al-Aqsa, says it’s done to make things difficult and to deter people from praying there. “They want people not to come,” he said. “It makes it hard for you as a worshipper, and it doesn’t feel comfortable that you, an innocent person, leave your ID card with police. Why?” He explained that the “process was used after attacks or clashes in the Al-Aqsa Mosque or in Jerusalem.”
‘A violation of rights’
In a letter sent to Doron Turgeman, commander of the Jerusalem District Police, to the Israel Police and its legal adviser, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said that some of the worshippers were instructed, under threat, to present themselves at the police station in order to retrieve their ID card. In some cases, return of their ID was contingent upon being questioned by police.
According to Adalah, the police’s actions are of a collective deterrent and punitive nature. “They limited the freedom of the worshippers and violated their rights to freedom of worship, movement and dignity,” and are in violation of the law.
“The law authorizes the policeman, at most, to instruct residents to present their ID card only,” wrote Adalah attorney Hassan Jabareen. “This authority is limited and conditional on circumstances justifying such a demand. The policeman does not have the authority to take the ID card from residents as a kind of guarantee,” and in effect to prevent them from obeying the law requiring anyone over 16 to always carry an ID card.
In the letter, Adalah referred to worshippers who were required to retrieve their ID card from the police station for purposes of questioning. “This step was taken without authority. The summons for questioning was not done due to suspicion of committing a specific offense, but in a collective and arbitrary manner to a large number of people, since their ID card was inside the police station.
"This is proof of an aggressive policy, based on foreign and racist considerations, which is counter to the instructions of the law,” the letter read.
There was no response from the police.