The Jerusalem District Court accepted an appeal by Israel Police on Friday against a ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on Tuesday which implied support for quiet Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, although it refused to define to what extent Jewish prayer is allowed at the site.
On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court heard the appeal of Aryeh Lipo, a Jewish visitor to the Temple Mount who had been removed and distanced from the complex for 15 days after a police officer ordered him to stop praying during a visit on Yom Kippur.
After watching a recording of the incident, Justice Bilha Yahalom ruled that the appellant’s behavior did not violate the law or police instructions on the Temple Mount, as he was praying without a crowd and quietly in a way that was not external or visible. The ruling stated as well that Israel Police did not dispute that Lipo, like many others, prays on a daily basis on the Temple Mount.
The justice additionally dismissed the notion that Lipo posed any danger or committed any violation with his quiet prayer, despite claims by police to the contrary.
While the High Court of Justice has ruled in the past that Jews do have the legal right to pray on the Temple Mount, police have cited security concerns to impose a blanket prohibition on Jewish prayer.
Jewish visitors to the site are informed upon entry that prayer and religious items such as prayer books or prayer shawls or forbidden in the complex, although, since late 2019, Jewish visitors have been able to pray quietly, in certain parts of the site, relatively undisturbed.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev announced on Friday that Israel Police would appeal the ruling because "a change in the status quo will endanger the public peace and could cause a flare-up."
"The State of Israel advocates freedom of worship and prayer for all, however, in view of the security implications, the status quo must be upheld that the prayer of Jews on the Temple Mount will take place next to the Western Wall and the prayer of Muslims will take place in al-Haram al-Sharif," said Bar Lev.
Aryeh Romanov, the judge ruling over the case at the Jerusalem District Court, stated on Friday that the rules on the Temple Mount forbid "religious/ritual activities having external, visible characteristics," stressing that the fact that the police officer noticed Lipo praying proved that his prayer was visible and therefore forbidden.
"The fact that someone noticed that the respondent was praying is apparent proof that his prayer was visible, for if it was not visible - no one would have noticed it," stated Romanov.
Despite the ruling against the magistrates court, Romanov refused to issue a decision concerning the exact definition of "religious/ritual activities having external, visible characteristics" nor whether the definition has room for any flexibility.
The judge also ruled that the decision by the police against Lipo was reasonable and subject to the considerations of the police officer who made the decision, adding that in principle courts should not issue their considerations in place of the considerations of the authorities, in this case the police officer.
Romanov stated that in Lipo's case, there was not sufficient reason for the court to intervene and the police officer's decision to distance Lipo should be reinstated.
Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben Gvir attacked Bar Lev after the district court's ruling, saying that the minister should "think more before he acts like an elephant in a china shop who will burn the Middle East."
Ben Gvir stressed that a district court has no right to prevent Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, adding that the High Court of Justice ruled that Jews have the right to pray on the Temple Mount and that government policy on the issue in recent years could not be reversed.
"If Bar Lev wants to change policy and violate the rights of the Jews, I suggest that he take into account that if Jews go on a rampage, it will be his responsibility," warned the Otzma Yehudit head. "I estimate that if there is another violation of the rights of the Jews on the Temple Mount, the Jewish worshipers will not be able to remain silent and there will be a mess."
After the ruling by the magistrates court on Tuesday, Palestinians expressed outrage, threatening an escalation and warning against a change in the status quo.
On Thursday, the Hamas movement called the ruling by the magistrates court a “clear declaration of war” and a “blatant aggression against the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque."
“The battle of the sword of Jerusalem was not and will not be the last chapter of the confrontation under the title of Jerusalem, and the resistance that was promised and fulfilled confirms that it is ready and prepared to repel aggression and defend rights,” warned Hamas.