In a hearing before the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court regarding young women who prayed in the Old City, a police representative declared that Jewish prayer is illegal without police permit in the Muslim quarter and violates public order.
Over the past few weeks, young Jewish men and women have been arrested for praying near the gates of the Temple Mount, despite the fact that there is no law, nor “status quo” agreement that prohibits this practice. But on Tuesday, police stated for the first time that such behavior, namely Jews praying anywhere in the Muslim quarter of the Old City, constitutes a crime.
According to the legal aid society Honenu, three young women were arrested on Sunday while praying in the vicinity of the Lions’ Gate. They were interrogated on suspicion of violating the public order and were released during the night, on condition that they appear in court Monday at a hearing of police request to restrict their entry into the Old City.
Their Honenu attorney, David Halevi, was asking what crime his clients had committed by praying in the Old City of Jerusalem, an area which has been a magnet for millions of Jews who pray there. Police representative Safi Sarhan and Superintendent Roy Avrahami explained that the very act of prayer in the Muslim quarter and near the Temple Mount gates without coordination with and permit from police is a violation of the public peace.
“You may pray anywhere in the Jewish quarter, but as soon as you go without authorization and pray in the Muslim quarter it causes disorder. Inside the Muslim quarter and in the vestibules they are prohibited from praying,” Sarhan stated. When attorney Halevi asked on which law police based this statement, Sarhan said it was based on police discretion, since they anticipate that Jews who pray in the Muslim quarter would provoke a disturbance of the peace.
Quite disturbingly, Judge Yael Yitav accepted the police argument and barred the defendants for 15 days from the Muslim quarter, the Temple Mount, and an area of 25 yards around the gates of the Temple Mount. Her decision follows an emerging pattern of law enforcement in Israel, whereby instead of protecting Jews from the Arab mob that attacks them for praying, police punish the Jews who pray “without permission.”
The court’s decision appears to fly in the face of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed in the 1948 General Assembly resolution 217 (III), whose Article 18 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
According to Judge Yitav, in Jerusalem, the term “everyone” in article 18 excludes Jews.
Attorney Halevi said in a statement that “this is an illegal conduct by Israel Police, which, in order to secure industrial peace has opted without authority and without any crime being committed by my clients to remove them while severely harming their freedom of movement and with abuse of police powers.”
According to Honenu, over the past month alone the organization has helped 35 Jews who were arrested on the Temple Mount and its entryways, 27 of whom were arrested while praying or rounding the gates outside the Temple Mount. Out of this group 16 were ordered to appear in court based on police demand to restrict their access to the holiest area to Jews.