Police on Sunday arrested several Jewish activists, including five minors, who they said were suspected of intending to carry out a Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount.
After security forces allowed a rehearsal sheep slaughtering to take place in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City on Thursday, it was widely believed that they would not let a “real” ceremony move forward at the contested Jerusalem site ahead the Passover festival Monday night.
In addition to arresting the activists, police raided the home of the parents of the head of a far-right group called Returning to the Mount, Raphael Morris.
A lawyer for some of the activists, Itamar Ben Gvir, decried the “silencing arrests” and called on police to allow “freedom of worship.”
He told Army Radio that “the police were acting disproportionately”
and that “Israel is losing its democratic character.”
Ben Gvir has a history of representing far-right clientele, including many perpetrators of attacks against Palestinian people and property.
“It is shameful that the State of Israel acts with an iron fist against people who simply want to renew one of the Torah’s most important commandments,” Morris said in a statement.
Approximately 200 people, including Likud MK Yehudah Glick, were in attendance for the rehearsal butchering that took place next to the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City on Thursday evening.
After the sheep was slaughtered in a lavish ceremony that included the blasting of silver trumpets by priests in white garments, the animal’s blood was sprinkled on a model altar. It was then flayed, roasted and eaten by the participants.
It was allegedly the first time in some 2,000 years that such a reenactment had taken place within the Old City walls.
For over a decade the group has held a reenactment of the Passover offering outside the Old City.
Activists annually request permission to fulfill the ritual on or near the Temple Mount, where such sacrifices were carried out at the time such sanctuaries stood. But each year they are refused by both police and courts, which say it could cause unrest if it is held at one of the most contested sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The flashpoint Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, revered by Jews as the site where the biblical Temples stood.
Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary and believe it is the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is the third holiest site in Islam and houses the Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine.
Israel captured the Mount in the 1967 war, but allowed the Waqf Muslim trust to continue to administer it.
The Palestinians have frequently charged that Israel is trying to change longstanding understandings, in place since 1967, under which Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray at, the site. Israel denies any such intention.
Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.