Activist sues PA, Jordan over Jewish access to Temple Mount

Baruch Ben Yosef files NIS 1 billion lawsuit; claims keeping Jews from holy site amounts to discrimination

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A Jewish man looks towards the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, 2013. (AP Photo/Simone Camilli)
A Jewish man looks towards the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, 2013. (AP Photo/Simone Camilli)

A right-wing Israeli activist this week filed a NIS 1 billion class-action lawsuit against Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and an Arab NGO, claiming their activities restrict Jewish access to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which amounts to discrimination.

The site is holy to both Jews and Muslims and is one of the key areas of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Baruch Ben Yosef, the current policy to limit Jewish visitation and prohibits non-Muslim worship at the site — enacted by the Jordanian-run Waqf, which maintains administrative rule over the holy site, endorsed by Israel, and enforced by Israeli security forces — violates Israeli discrimination laws.

An Israeli law passed in 2000 prohibits those who operate public places from denying entry based on race, religion, nationality, sex or political affiliation. Violation of the law is a criminal offense, and offenders can be ordered to pay damages of up to NIS 50,000 to victims of discrimination.

Ben Yosef says the NIS 1 billion ($262 million) he is seeking in damages is on behalf of the thousands of Jewish Israelis who have been detained, harassed, attacked or turned away while attempting to enter the Temple Mount.

The Palestinian Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas, the suit claims, are responsible for “continuously inciting violence on the Temple Mount to eliminate or increase Jewish visitors to the mountain,” the Hebrew-language Walla website reported Thursday.

The suit alleges Jordan’s claims of sovereignty of the Temple Mount are illegal in light of the Israeli victory in the 1967 Six Day War.

In addition to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, the lawsuit also names Israeli Arab organization the Islamic Movement as a defendant. Ben Yosef claims the group “took it upon themselves to fund, support and incite Muslims on the Temple Mount to take action against Jews who visit the site.”

In Ben Yosef’s statement of claim filed at a Jerusalem District Court earlier this week, activists from the Islamic Movement regularly harass and attack Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount.

“While the plaintiff and other Jewish citizens of Israel are waiting outside in the cold or hot weather for approval to enter, hundreds of tourists from around the world receive preferential treatment and are allowed inside,” the statement said.

Ben Yosef said the discrimination “damaged the dignity and respect of the defendants during their visit to the Temple Mount.”

The Temple Mount, which holds the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, is considered the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site for Jews as it was the location of the two ancient Jewish temples.

Under the terms of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the Temple Mount remains under Jordanian custodianship via the Waqf authorities. Jewish visitors are allowed on the Temple Mount, but are forbidden to pray there.

As the site is part of Jerusalem’s Old City, controlled by Israel since 1967, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim sovereignty over it, and it remains a major focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an attempt to keep the status quo, the Israeli government enforces the Waqf’s regulations for the site, including the ban on Jewish worship.

Over the last year, rumors that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to change the site’s delicate status quo sparked low-level clashes between Muslim worshipers and Israeli security forces.

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