12 October 2021
On October 6, the Jerusalem Magistrates' Court lifted a restraining order against a known Temple Movement activist, which barred him from the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (TM/HAS) for 15 days. The Israel Police issued the ban during Sukkot on September 26 due to the activist's refusal to comply with police orders to refrain from praying on the Mount, which is a breach of the status quo. In its decision, the court cited that quiet prayer does not pose a security risk and therefore cannot justify the restraining order – a tacit endorsement of Jewish prayer in the Holy Compound.
Although on October 8 the District Court overturned the lower court's ruling and reinstated the ban following an appeal filed by the police, this incident marks another alarming stage in the erosion of the tenuous status quo on the Holy Esplanade.
Israeli courts have previously ruled that Jewish prayer on the Holy Mount is permitted in the name of freedom of worship; however, they have likewise affirmed that the police have the authority to prevent Jewish prayer out of concern for public order and safety. The Magistrates' Court's decision was therefore significant in that for the first time, the court challenged the police's discretion in its decision to prohibit entry on the Mount to a Jew who was caught praying in violation of the status quo, police orders and previous court rulings.
In should be underscored, however, that while a restraining order was issued against the activist in this instance, in recent years, the Israel Police, which essentially implement the government's policy on the TM/HAS, have ultimately contributed to the dangerous destabilization of the status quo. In practice, the police's actions have actually emboldened the Temple Movements, enabling them to further their goals and become more powerful. If and when the police attempt to rein in the activities of Temple Movement activists, they in turn use the power they have amassed to force the police to comply with their demands.
In the past, the police would firmly enforce the status quo and prevent all forms of Jewish prayer on the Mount in line with statements made by Israeli Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Bennett, which affirm that only Muslims pray on the TM/HAS and all others are visitors. However, more recently, the police have been permitting Jews to pray silently and allowing much larger groups of Jews onto the Mount. The entry of larger groups limits the police's ability to effectively manage the situation and enforce its orders, which the Temple Movements exploit for their own purposes. During Sukkot, there were a number of incidents in which Temple Movement activists flouted police orders, leading to confrontations between them and the police.
These events were published in media outlets that support the demand for Jewish prayer rights on the TM/HAS, which further reinforces their efforts to push for a change of arrangements there. The Temple Movements have likewise worked in recent months to increase press coverage of Jewish prayer on the Holy Esplanade in order to draw more Jews to the Mount and to manipulate public perception that Jewish prayer there is routine.
The Magistrates' Court's unprecedented decision is therefore indicative of an alarming shift in Israeli public perception, which likely led the judge to rule that the ban was unjustified and cite in her ruling that Jewish prayer takes place daily in the compound.
Although, as mentioned above, the police appealed the court's decision and managed to overturn it in the District Court, it is critical to underscore that their policies and actions have fostered the conditions that ultimately led to the Magistrate's Court's alarming ruling. As long as the police do not revert to a full adherence and enforcement of the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Movements will continue to erode what is still remaining. Without a dramatic shift in police policy, it is likely that measures like these will continue to happen in the future.
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