The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Sunday overturned a police order barring three Jews from the Temple Mount, after they prayed there in violation of understandings with Muslim authorities.
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City is considered the holiest site in Judaism, having been the seat of the two ancient temples. At the same time, it is the site of the al-Aqsa mosque compound, a Muslim holy site. This has long been a flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Israel allows Jews to visit on condition they refrain from prayer or religious rites. The Israeli Prime Minister's Office released a statement on Sunday night saying that there is no plan to change this status quo of banning Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.
"The magistrate court's decision solely with the matter of the minors' behavior that was brought before it, and represents no broader decision regarding freedom of worship on the Temple Mount," the statement said. "Regarding this specific criminal case, the state has informed the government that it will appeal the decision in the district court."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement calling Sunday's ruling "a grave assault against the historic status quo ... and a flagrant challenge to international law.”
He added that the court's decision "allows settlers to hold Talmudic rituals" in the mosque's compound.
The Islamist group Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, echoed that sentiment. "The decision to allow the holding of Talmudic rituals at the al-Aqsa compound is playing with fire, crossing all red lines and is a dangerous escalation for which the occupation will bear responsibility," it said in a statement.
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The statement added that the land on which al-Aqsa sits belongs to Muslims alone, and that sovereignty over it belongs to the Palestinian people. "The residents of Jerusalem and the Palestinian nation as a whole will respond to these plans with all their might, and we will not allow this to take place at any cost."
The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ruled in favor of three appellants, two adults and a minor, who had been detained and then banned from the Old City for 15 days for prostrating themselves and intoning the Shema, a core Jewish prayer at the compound. The ruling quoted police as saying those actions disrupted its officers' duties and threatened public order.
Attorney Nati Rom, who represented the three, argued that the decision runs contrary to the Holy Sites Law and to an explicit statement by the Police Commissioner, Kobi Shabtai, who said that the police allow “all residents of the state and the territories” to come to Temple Mount “to pray and observe their religious worship.”
Shabtai made the statement on a Friday during which prayer was held at al-Aqsa Mosque, and clearly referred to the Muslim public during Ramadan, but Rom sought to interpret his words as referring to Jews as well. The police, on the other hand, argued that holding visible signs of Jewish worship on Temple Mount is a violation of public order that might devolve to violence.
In removing the ban, Judge Zion Saharai said that while he had no intention of interfering in law enforcement at the site, "the appellants' conduct does not raise worry of harm befalling national security, public safety or individual security."
At the same time, he added that his ruling does not constitute “interference in the work of the police in enforcing public order on Temple Mount in general, nor any determinations regarding the freedom of worship on Temple Mount.”
Police had no comment. Eran Schwarz, a lawyer whose firm represented the appellants, said he expected police to contest the ruling. Magistrate's courts can be overturned by district courts, with Israel's Supreme Court a final course of appeal.
The ruling came a week before nationalist Jews are due to hold an annual flag march through Jerusalem's Old City, marking its capture by Israel in the Six-Day War. The event is resented by Palestinians, who want the Old City and other parts of East Jerusalem as capital of their hoped-for future state.
Jordan, a U.S.-backed Israeli security partner that serves as custodian of al-Aqsa, has also voiced concern about the Jewish visits to the compound. Jordanian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Haitham Abu Alfoul said that the decision is invalid and illegitimate per international law, which does not recognize the authority of the Israeli justice system over East Jerusalem.
"The decision represents a grave violation of the historic and legal status-quo at the al-Aqsa Mosque," he said. He warned against allowing extremists to "storm the al-Aqsa Mosque."