Israeli Court Is Rubber Stamping Temple Mount Zealots

Aviv Tatarsky
Aviv Tatarsky
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Jewish men praying on Olive Mount overlooking the Dome of the Rock in the Temple Mount compound
Jewish men praying on Olive Mount overlooking the Dome of the Rock in the Temple Mount compound Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Aviv Tatarsky
Aviv Tatarsky

The ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that Jewish prayer is part of the proper routine on Temple Mount, and the judge’s decision to remove the restraining order against Temple activist Aryeh Lipo, is a slap in the face to the status quo. For the first time an Israeli court – even if it’s a lower court – has ruled that Jewish prayer on Temple Mount is permitted not only in principle but in practice as well, and that the police are not permitted to restrict it.

The Jewish Temple movement hastened to celebrate victory. The police appealed to the district court, which about 10 days ago reversed the magistrate court’s decision and left the ban in place. But despite this appearance of rivalry, the truth is that the police have been operating systematically and consistently in recent years along with the Temple movement to undo the status quo. In fact, it can be said that absent a series of steps taken by the police in the past two years, the magistrate judge would never have made her ruling in the first place.

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First, it may be worth explaining who Aryeh Lipo is. He is one of the leaders of the Temple movement, which envisions building the Third Temple. Statements emanating from the movement include “[We have to] decide to whom the Temple Mount belongs, to the queen of the Land of Israel, the holy presence, or, God forbid, to the evil handmaid, who is making a mockery of Isaac? There is no choice but to expel this handmaid and her son, because her son will not inherit together with my son Isaac.” Lipo is no exception, of course. The Temple activists often call for the “conquest of the Temple Mount,” the removal of the “foxes” from it and the destruction of the Dome of the Rock.

Israeli security forces patrol the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old CityCredit: Ammar Awad/Reuters

In the past, the police have understood that their job is to prevent the realization of this dangerous vision and in particular to defend the status quo. But in recent years, under pressure from the recent public security ministers, Gilad Erdan and Amir Ohana, the police began to coordinate their activities with the Temple movement. Such was the case in the crisis over the metal detectors installed at the site, the conflict around the Bab al-Rahma complex on the Temple Mount, and the clashes during Ramadan this year, in which the police became participants who repeatedly caused escalation and undermined stability.

In addition, the Israel Police, spent two years drastically deviating from its policy, dictated by the status quo, by permitting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. The Temple movement makes sure to disseminate the “news” about this change on the Temple Mount. In recent months, Jewish prayer at the holy site – silent prayer, it’s true, but clear and overt – has received broad coverage in the media.

As a result of these repeated reports, which showed what the police now permit on the mount, there has been a change in the Israeli public’s perception of prayer there: from a controversial and dangerous act to a normal act sanctioned by the police.

And so, when the magistrate court judge discussed the appeal against Lipo’s restraining order, she discussed it knowing that the police allow Jewish prayer – even if limited – and being influenced by the general atmosphere that views such prayer as normal. Without these preconditions – which as noted were created by the police – she unquestionably would have ruled the other way.

While framing the issue as being about freedom of worship, the Temple movement has no intention of making do with prayer on the Temple Mount. Its adherents have frequently explained their strategy for undoing the status quo: The more their supporters visit the site, the greater the public outcry will be against preventing Jewish prayer on the mount.

An Israeli police officer stands guard as a religious Jew in Army uniform visits the Temple MountCredit: Maya Alleruzzo/AP

This protest, combined with repeated violations of police directives, will trigger public pushback and increase pressure in their favor. And in fact, when the magistrate’s court judge discussed Lipo’s appeal, she didn’t see him as an extremist political activist who aspires to undermine stability in a very sensitive place. As far as she is concerned, this was an arbitrary decision by a policeman who – in her eyes – decided for an unclear reason to restrict a Jewish visitor who was supposedly praying as the police permit in any case.

The police can only blame themselves for what happened in the courtroom. In order to avoid similar incidents in the future, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev has to instruct the police to work for the interests of the public and not for those of the Temple activists. The police must return to the basic understandings of the status quo, to which both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, have specifically committed themselves: “Jews don’t pray on the Temple Mount.”

The writer is a researcher at the Ir Amim NGO.

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