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Israeli court rules that Jews can pray on Temple Mount – but clarifies ruling ‘does not intervene’ with status quo

Ruling could inflame tensions especially in light of Jerusalem Day next week

Israeli security forces guard a group of religious Jews visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, during Tisha B'av, July 18, 2021. (Photo: Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled in favor of three Jewish teenagers who the police temporarily banned from going to the Temple Mount after they had prayed at the site on May 15 saying that it constituted “a disproportionate infringement on their freedom of movement.”

However, the court also made it clear that “this [decision] does not intervene with the police’s job in enforcing public order at the Temple Mount, nor does it determine anything regarding freedom of worship at the Temple Mount.”

Judge Zion Saharay criticized police for barring the teenagers from the Temple Mount and said that a public statement made by the police chief “clearly suggests that all residents of the country are allowed to enter the Temple Mount and pray.”

Stopping them from praying “constitutes a disproportionate infringement on their freedom of movement, which is a fundamental constitutional right,” Saharay wrote in his ruling.

He made it clear, however, that his ruling did not affect the “status quo” on the Temple Mount.

Currently, Israel allows Muslims to visit and pray on the Temple Mount, whereas Jews are allowed to visit, but not to pray or to perform religious rituals. The policy is commonly referred to as “the status quo.”

The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews, as it is the site of the biblical First and Second Temples. It is a “widely reported reality,” however, at least in recent months and years, that Jews are frequently allowed to quietly pray on the Temple Mount.

The condemnations from the PA and Hamas prompted Israel’s judicial authority to release an unusual message to the media stressing that the ruling “does not intervene” with police enforcement of the status quo policy.

Sunday’s ruling prompted concern that it would inflame tensions between Israelis and Palestinians even further. Last month during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, widespread riots took place at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, where Palestinians repeatedly clashed with Israeli police. The Temple Mount was subsequently closed to Jewish visitors for two weeks.

Gadi Hitman Ph.D., a senior lecturer at Ariel University’s Middle East Department, said if Israel plans to change the status quo that it also has to consider the consequences of that decision, “because there will be consequences.”

“The question is not to allow or not to allow – it is the consequences of this decision,” he told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “If you want to maintain the status quo, the Jordanians continue to maintain authority. But if we are changing the status quo within the Temple Mount, it is a legitimate question, however, it requires work basically regarding the question of what will be the day after this vis-a-vis the Jordanian relationship with Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world.”

Hitman explained that in Israel security concerns supersede a court ruling. Ultimately, the prime minister can decide – based on intelligence from security services – to go against a court ruling, which is in line with the statement released by the court after this particular ruling.

The current government does not seem likely to rattle the vastly improved relationship it has built with Jordan after several rancorous years under Netanyahu. Tampering with the 55-year status quo now also does not seem likely.

“They need to respect the court’s ruling, but if you can leave any doubt regarding a security escalation due to carrying this out, they can stop it,” Hitman said. “You can explain, ‘We are a democracy, we respect the court’s ruling. But the security circumstances are not allowing us to carry it out.’”

Next week, on Jerusalem Day, which is celebrated annually to mark Israel’s conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, a “Flag March” is scheduled to take place. Hamas has threatened that it will resist the march “with all our capabilities.” Last year during the “Flag March,” Hamas fired 45 missiles into Israel but no injuries were recorded.

“There is no change, nor is any change planned, on the status quo of the Temple Mount,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement after the ruling. “The Magistrate Court’s decision is focused exclusively on the issue of the conduct of the minors brought before it, and does not constitute a broader determination regarding the freedom of worship on the Temple Mount. With regard to the specific criminal case in question, the government was informed that the state will file an appeal to the District Court.”

On Monday, the police filed an appeal against Saharay’s ruling to the Jerusalem District Court. The police also said that the ruling had been based on a distortion of statements made by the police commissioner.

“When the commissioner speaks about freedom of worship, he does not refer to the Temple Mount, where the status quo determined by government policy and High Court rulings over the years is maintained,” an unnamed police official said.

Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas all condemned the ruling in strong terms.

“The ruling is legally null and void according to international law, which does not recognize the authority of the Israeli judicial system on occupied Palestinian territories from 1967, including East Jerusalem,” a statement from the Jordanian foreign ministry said.

PA Chief Mahmoud Abbas released a statement calling the decision “a serious violation of the historical status quo” and urged Washington “to intervene urgently to stop the Israeli attacks on our people and their sanctities.” In threatening language in reference to the upcoming “Flag March,” Abbas’ office called on “our people to challenge and confront these attacks.”

Hamas said the court’s ruling “plays with fire while crossing all red lines, and is a dangerous escalation for which the leaders of the occupation shall bear the consequences.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

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