Public security minister: No Jewish prayer on Temple Mount

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said that the ‘customary situation’ set in 1967 whereby non-Muslims can visit but cannot pray should be upheld.

 Jewish man prays at the Temple Mount in front of the Dome of the Rock (photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)
Jewish man prays at the Temple Mount in front of the Dome of the Rock
(photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)

Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev appears set to maintain government policy on the Temple Mount after his office issued a statement declaring that the site would be open to visits by non-Muslims but not to non-Muslim prayer.

Although Jews have largely been prevented from praying at the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, the police in recent years have turned a blind eye to quiet and discreet prayers held at the plaza, as first reported by The Jerusalem Post in 2019.

Bar Lev said after meeting security officials that it was important that the “customary situation” on the Temple Mount in place since 1967 in which Jewish prayer is prevented should be maintained.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the discreet Jewish prayer services that have been conducted in recent years will now be stopped.

According to one Temple Mount activist, such services have continued in recent days, including on Sunday.

JEWISH MEN pray on the Temple Mount this week. (credit: JEREMY SHARON)JEWISH MEN pray on the Temple Mount this week. (credit: JEREMY SHARON)

Asked for clarification, a spokesman for Bar-Lev said that the police were not able to know if an individual was praying silently, implying that the police might not be instructed to stop the discreet prayers that have recently become routine.

Several activist organizations which advocate for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount expressed concern that Jewish prayer on the site may now be stopped in reaction to Bar Lev’s comments. 

Far-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit Party, a constituent of the Religious Zionist Party, condemned Bar Lev’s announcement, saying he was injuring the status quo of Jews at the site “whose rights are already minimal and denying them the right to pray at the holiest site for the Jewish people, as they have done for the last two years.” 

On Sunday, Bar Lev met Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman and other senior police officers as well as representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

“During the meeting, the ‘customary situation’ was presented to Minister Bar Lev regarding everything to do with Jewish and Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount, as determined by the Israeli government in 1967, in accordance with which Jews prayed at the Western Wall and Muslims on the Temple Mount,” read a statement issued by Bar Lev’s office following Sunday’s meeting.

“In accordance with this situation, the Temple Mount will be open for visits by non-Muslims but not for prayer,” continued the statement.

After the meeting, Bar Lev said that the police “stringently upholds the customary situation on the Temple Mount” and the fact that the site is holy to both Jews and Muslims makes it especially sensitive.

“In everything that is connected to visiting and prayer on the Temple Mount, it is important to be strict regarding the continuation of the customary situation as the government of Israel established in 1967, immediately after the Six Day War, and adopted by Israeli governments ever since,” Bar Lev said.

“There is a clear interest for the State of Israel to preserve cooperation with the Jordanian Waqf,” added Bar Lev, in reference to the Jordanian religious trust that administers the Muslim holy sites on the mount.

The spokesman for the Committee of Temple Mount Organizations, Asaf Fried, said that the organization “calls on the minister for public security to intensify the positive progress on the Temple Mount and improve the conditions for Jews who visit the Temple Mount, the holiest place for the Jewish people.”

Tom Nisani, director of the Beyadeynu for the Temple Mount organization, said that Bar Lev “should know that the ‘customary situation’ in a democratic state is freedom of religion for its citizens and not clear discrimination and action against Jewish citizens seeking to actualize their religious or national rights on the Temple Mount.”

Nisani said he recommended that Bar Lev and the police “cooperate with the citizens of their country and not with a foreign and hostile power that attacks policeman and citizens on the Mount,” adding that the minister’s announcement would “invite more pressure and more capitulation.”

The High Court of Justice has previously upheld the right in theory for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, but let police exercise its discretion to prohibit it if they believed it would lead to violence.

In practice, the police have used this ruling to impose a blanket ban on Jewish prayer, until past public security minister Gilad Erdan instilled a new attitude among the police toward Jewish visitors, which resulted in the discreet Jewish prayer services that began around 2018.