Seven Far-right Jews Arrested on Suspicion of Planning Passover Sacrifice on Temple Mount

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The Passover sacrifice ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 6, 2017.
The Passover sacrifice ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 6, 2017.Credit: Emil Salman

Police arrested seven Temple Mount activists over the past few days based on suspicions that they were planning to conduct a Passover sacrifice ceremony on the Temple Mount, in violation of police orders.

Among those arrested was Raphael Morris, the chairman of the Return to the Mount movement. He was taken into custody on Sunday from his home in the West Bank settlement of Ahiya.

"It is shameful that Israel acts with an iron fist against people who just want to renew one of the most important commandments in the Torah," Morris said. "The police will not prevent us from our right to make the Passover sacrifice. I am certain that for every activist who is arrested, many dozens will come in their place to the Temple Mount on the eve of Passover."

Raphael Morris, chairman of of the Return to the Temple Mount movement, under arrest before Passover in 2016. Credit: Emil Salman

In recent years, the police have made arrests before Passover, which this year begins on Monday night, in order to prevent the activists from holding the ceremony at Judaism's holiest site. Right-wing activists have tried to bring goats to the Temple Mount area and sacrifice them. Morris was also arrested last year after he was caught carrying a young goat in Jerusalem's Old City, and spent the first night of Passover in jail.

Yisrael Elitzur, an activist who was arrested and subsequently released, wrote on Facebook that police officers broke into his home and handcuffed him. When he arrived at the police station, he realized he was not alone. Others, "righteous ones from all over the country" – all minors except for him – were brought in too, he wrote.

Elitzur said he was arrested because the police feared he had planned "to observe the commandments and conduct a Passover sacrifice." 

Itamar Ban-Gvir, an attorney from the Honenu organization who is representing some of the activists, called the arrests a serious infringement of freedom of religion and democratic principles. "These are arrests to silence people and the police need to allow the Temple Mount activists freedom of worship," he said. "Israel is losing its democratic nature, people cannot be arrested in the middle of the night just because they want to observe the commandments of Judaism."

The Jerusalem District police said the arrests were made after an assessment of the situation ahead of the Passover holiday, and "in light of the intentions of extremist elements, Jews and Arabs, to disturb public order." The police stated that they issued warrants and restraining orders keeping the activists from the Old City and the Temple Mount.

According to the police, Muslims who intended to act against Jews visiting the Temple Mount during the holiday were also ordered to stay away from the site.

Last week, the High Court of Justice summarily rejected a petition by Temple Mount activists asking permission to stage their annual reenactment of the Passover sacrifice in an archaeological park near the Temple Mount.

In their ruling, Justices Salim Joubran, Yoram Danziger and Uri Shoham stressed that this decision lies within the hard core of the police’s authority and competence. But beyond that, they added, “it seems this is the correct decision, about which one could say that it is appropriate and even mandatory.”

Though the reenactment has been held annually for the past 15 years, it has never been held in close proximity to the Mount. This year, group secured permission to hold a scaled-down ceremony in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, just a few hundred meters from the Temple Mount.

The ceremony began as a semi-underground event in which an animal was sacrificed a few days before the Passover seder. In recent years, the reenactment has become an institution and has become the most important event of the year for Temple Mount activists.

Last year, the reenactment was held in the Bet Orot neighborhood on the Mount of Olives, with a view of the Temple Mount.