Did court ruling change status of Jewish prayer atop Temple Mount?

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court made a major ruling this week.

March 4, 2015 03:26
3 minute read.
Mount of Olives

Snow on the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City is seen from the Mount of Olives January 9. (photo credit: EUROPEAN JEWISH ASSOCIATION)

Did a major Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruling on Sunday alter the rules preventing Jews from praying on the Temple Mount? The short answer is: no or not yet.

What the court was addressing in that ruling was whether the police had been too heavy-handed in banning right-wing activist Yehudah Glick from the Mount for two years, after Channel 10 broadcast a video of him praying on the Temple Mount. The court also had to decide whether that penalty has cost Glick money from canceled tours he would have led of the Mount.

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The filming of the incident and the extreme two-year police ban removed the ruling from directly impacting on the much more narrow but important issue of whether an individual Jew can pray on the Temple Mount.

As the court stated, there are powerful competing constitutional principles in play here. Jews wanting to pray there want to exercise their freedom of speech and religion at Judaism’s holiest site. The police and the state want to prevent actions and reactions that could cause public disorder not only on the Mount itself, but across the country and even the region.

The courts have also recognized that actions on the Temple Mount can impact foreign policy interests of the state and that this variety of interests can limit an individual’s right to pray, if authorities are concerned about a specific and concrete danger.

Technically, the Supreme Court’s principles and the police policy that Jews can pray on the Temple Mount as long as they do not do so openly or “offensively” (not in groups) to Muslims on the Mount, were merely upheld by the lower court.

What the court essentially said was that the police could limit Glick’s or other’s right to openly pray on the Mount, but that Glick had done his prayer in a quiet and unassuming manner, neither violating the general policy nor violating a specific statement of obligations which the police made him sign in order to be permitted to ascend the Mount.

Rather, the court blamed Channel 10 for breaking its commitment to the police not to film or air any of Glick’s time on the Mount, and questioned why the police had not gone after Channel 10.

In that sense, the ruling did not make any broad policy change. But that is not the end of the story.

The new ruling was much more explicit and unequivocal in confirming the right of Jews to pray (even if not openly) on the Temple Mount than many previous court decisions.

Also, the court questioned the police’s own estimation of what could constitute a threat to security or public order – an area that courts usually avoid so as not to second-guess security officials’ expertise.

Next, the court slammed the police policy of having Glick and other select activists signing special commitments in order to ascend the Mount, a rebuke which activists could try to use to challenge the policy going forward.

Further, the court went so far as to slam a confidential police report about police concerns about Glick as inadequate and essentially useless.

It is rare that courts rebuke or reject a secret police report and the court even implied that censured portions of the report might have been censured to cover-up how much of a black eye the police has on the issue.

The degree to which the ruling could be used to change the playing field is further emphasized by hints from the state that it will appeal the ruling, even though it has not created a broad precedent.

So both before and after the ruling, Jews can pray modestly on the Temple Mount, but not openly, and the court decision in and of itself did not change the playing field.

But the court did open the door for activists to challenge the status quo on a range of issues.

The likely next round on appeal and future spinoff disputes promise to prolong the battle over Temple Mount prayer.

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