The High Court of Justice summarily rejected a petition by Temple Mount activists on Sunday demanding that the police allow them to stage their annual reenactment of the Paschal sacrifice in an archaeological park near the Temple Mount.
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Though the reenactment is held every year, it has never been held in close proximity to the Mount.
On Thursday, Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevy announced that he would not permit the reenactment to be held near the Jerusalem Archaeological Park’s Davidson Center. On Sunday, the activists behind the reenactment responded by filing a petition in the court against this decision.
Police legal adviser Michael Frankenburg then informed their attorney, Aviad Visoly, that Halevy had conducted a situation assessment about the issue, and on the basis of that assessment, he decided not to permit the event to take place at the Davidson Center, even if various restrictions were imposed.
The activists claim that during their discussions with police officers last week, police had actually seemed willing to permit the reenactment to be held at the park under certain conditions. According to sources involved in the talks, the conditions were that the sacrificial lamb couldn’t actually be slaughtered at the site, nor could it be burned on the altar there, but other parts of the ceremony could take place.
Nevertheless, on Thursday, Halevy decided to ban the event completely.
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.”
The ceremony has been conducted annually for the past 15 years. It 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. This year, organizers decided to hold the ceremony as close to the Temple Mount as possible, just south of the Western Wall Plaza.
The Jerusalem municipality has supported the event in recent years, and an inspector from the Veterinary Service has been on hand to supervise the slaughter of the sacrificial animal. Hundreds of people, including Knesset members, rabbis and other public figures have attended the ceremony in recent years.
The archaeological park is run by the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, a government-owned corporation under the Construction and Housing Ministry. The company approved the request to hold the ceremony in the park, but required organizers to also receive permission from the police.
Holding the reenactment is expected to draw a furious response from Islamic groups, who say it is a provocation; the Islamic Waqf views the entire area as part of the Temple Mount. In addition, for years some archaeologists have been complaining about holding events in the archaeological park, which they say violates the character of the site.