The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Sunday opened the trial of three young Jews, two of whom are enlisted IDF soldiers, who had been arrested last summer on the Temple Mount and charged with conduct that could violate the public peace. The reason? These three young Jewish men dared to recite the Shema Yisrael (Hear, oh Israel, God is our Lord, God is one) on the Temple Mount (where two Jewish temples stood in years past). Also, according to the indictment, they even dared to bow in front of the Dome of the Rock, the very site of said two temples.
According to the indictment, dozens of Arabs threatened the three young men and shouted curses at them, at which point the policemen who accompanied their visiting group rushed to remove the Jews who were under attack for exercising their elementary religious rights, while not lifting a finger against the Arab mob.
At this point we need to clarify an essential component of the legal status of the Temple Mount which has been liberated for one summer in 1967 by the brave soldiers of the IDF, and then handed over for safekeeping to a Jordanian, anti-Israeli Islamic charity known as the Waqf, which immediately took steps to keep Jews out of the sacred compound.
In 2004, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled on the status of Jews (and other non-Muslims) on the Temple Mount. Justices Aharon Barak, Jacob Turkel, and Miriam Naor that, 1. Every Jew has the right to go up and pray on the Temple Mount. It is part of the freedom of religious worship and freedom of expression; 2. When there is a high probability of harm to the public safety and human life, restriction of freedom of expression and religious worship on the Temple Mount can be justified; but, 3. Nevertheless, this prevention is not unwavering. The police are to examine the issue each time according to the changing reality. It is not possible to impose the police position in isolation from the changes that occur over time.
In other words, in practical terms, each time a Jew exercises his right to pray on the Temple Mount, police must weigh his fundamentally sanctioned act of prayer against the potential for Arab violence – and then, we can presume, weigh the police’s ability to maintain law and order under these circumstances against the harm to an individual’s right to his or her religious freedom.
Alas, in Israe,l where the common joke is that cops patrol in pairs because one can read and one can write, it ain’t realistic to expect those cops on the Temple mount to enter these careful evaluations, and so they exercise instead a simpler protocol of Jew prays, Jew gets arrested.
At the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court hearing before Judge Gabai-Richter Sunday, two of the defendants asked to delay the reading of their indictments because they wished to be represented by attorneys who aren’t affiliated with the Honenu legal aid society, the common legal defender of Jews in their disputes with the cops over national-religious issues.
Honenu attorney Moshe Polsky, representing the third defendant, said at the initial hearing that it would have been better for such a scandalous indictment not to be filed, cementing as it does the shameful fact that in the State of Israel in 2019 it is illegal for a Jew to recite the Shema Yisrael.
Later, Polsky issued a statement saying, “We recall the days when we had to sneak a shofar to the Western Wall because the foreign government forbade it. It is a very grim situation that even today we are not entitled to exercise our basic ritual rights on the Temple Mount.”
Polsky then explained the difference between the High Court’s ruling that police must reevaluate periodically the danger to the public order in a Jew’s praying on the Temple Mount, instead of its practice of hanging a permanent sign at the entrance, prohibiting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount at any time. Jews have been yanked and arrested for making a blessing over a fruit on the Temple Mount, never mind uttering a whispering prayer, or, God forbid, bowing to God.
Attorney Polsky concluded: “Every time the Arabs violated the public order [on the Temple Mount] the police has done nothing, which demonstrated tremendous feebleness. Likewise regarding the violations of the public order by the Reform at the Kotel plaza. Only when a few boys arrive to perform a mitzvah in the sacred place, caused no breach of the public order in the end, only then does the police know how to act decisively and to file such a scandalous indictment.”