A court decision to lift a ban on Jews praying on the Temple Mount was overturned Friday by the Jerusalem District Court, with the public security minister warning that unilateral steps at the sensitive religious site could rekindle violence.
The earlier ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court concerned a Jewish man, Arye Lipo, who was barred from the Temple Mount for 15 days after the police caught him quietly praying there. The court rescinded the ban, ruling that the man, “like many others, prays on a daily basis on the Temple Mount.”
The issue reached the district court after the Jerusalem police appealed the magistrate’s court's ruling.
Under an unofficial understanding, Jews are allowed to visit but not pray on the Mount, which is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary. Although the police enforce this, recent months have seen a loosening of the status quo, with more Jews praying in the compound individually and even in groups.
Noting that Lipo prayed “quietly” and privately, the magistrate's court said that “this activity by itself is not enough to violate the police’s instructions.”
But Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev backed the appeal, stating that “a change in the status quo will endanger public security and could cause a flare-up.”
The Waqf, the Islamic endowment that maintains the Al-Aqsa compound on the Mount, called the magistrate’s court ruling a “flagrant violation” of the complex’s sanctity and a “clear provocation” for Muslims worldwide.
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According to the appeal, when praying, Lipo attracted the attention of a guard from the Waqf, who notified his supervisors.
The appeal stated that the man "stood near the Dome of the Rock plaza, a place that has become a point of friction between Jewish visitors and representatives of the Waqf .... A video presented to the lower court along with activity reports show that the respondent prayed openly and in a clear voice."
The police mentioned a Supreme Court ruling citing “the principled position that visitors must not be allowed to enter the Temple Mount and pray there any time they want, out of a fear of harming the public order or public welfare.”
According to the appeal, the High Court of Justice has said many times that a violent incident at the site could lead to an outbreak “endangering security outside the borders of the country and the region.”
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is the third-holiest site for Muslims and the holiest for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the ancient Jewish Temples. It is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and tensions there helped ignite the 11-day air war with Gaza in May.
The agreement regarding Jewish prayer on the Mount has broken down in recent years as large groups of Jews, including hard-line religious nationalists, have regularly visited and prayed at the site. The Israeli government says it is committed to maintaining the status quo.
The Palestinians and neighboring Jordan, which serves as the custodian of the site, fear that Israel plans to eventually take over the compound or partition it – as it did with a similarly contested holy site in Hebron in the West Bank.
“Israel espouses freedom of worship and prayer for everyone,” Bar-Lev said. “But in light of the security considerations, the status quo must be upheld, which states that Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount will be held next to the Western Wall and Muslim prayer at the Haram al-Sharif.”
The previous court decision triggered strong reactions from the Muslim world including the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, which called the decision "a clear violation of the decisions of the international community." A ministry spokesman warned of the consequences of this "provocation to all Muslims."
Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanua called the decision "blatant aggression against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and a declaration of war. It is a game of fire that could lead to disaster." Palestinian Authority officials also condemned the ruling by the magistrate's court.