Activists, journalists detained over Passover sacrifice attempt at Temple Mount

Haaretz editor blasts police for arrests, calls on force to release seized cameras and other equipment

Jewish men slaughter a sheep for the Passover Sacrifice 'practice' ceremony at the Old City of Jerusalem, on April 15, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Jewish men slaughter a sheep for the Passover Sacrifice 'practice' ceremony at the Old City of Jerusalem, on April 15, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Two journalists were among four people arrested on Thursday for covering an attempt to smuggle two baby goats into Jerusalem’s Temple Mount for a ritual sacrifice.

Police said on Thursday that a Jewish adult and a minor intended “to cause provocations” by sacrificing the goats ahead of Passover at the holy site. Two journalists who planned to film the ritual were also detained.

The suspects’ car was stopped and police found two live goats in the trunk, police said. Officers arrested the four occupants, including journalists Hagar Shezaf of Haaretz and Yotam Ronen of Walla News, and seized their equipment, saying it was evidence in the investigation.

Police said they suspected the activists “were on their way to the Temple Mount in order to foment provocations and disturb the public order there.”

The Jewish adult and minor suspected of animal abuse were to be brought to court for arraignment later Thursday, police said.

“I was detained last night for about six hours while basically doing my job as a journalist and documenting Temple Mount activists,” Shezaf said in a tweet. “I’m okay but the police still have my camera, multiple memory cards, mics and batteries.”

The editor of the Haaretz newspaper demanded that Jerusalem police immediately return the cameras and digital images they seized from the two reporters.

“The confiscation of their equipment is a mortal blow to journalistic immunity,” Aluf Benn said in a statement to acting police commissioner Moti Cohen.

“You are required to return the equipment immediately and ensure that no use was made of any of the material in your possession,” Benn said.

Jewish priests perform a Passover sacrifice ‘practice’ ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 15, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Hours later, on Thursday evening, Walla said the equipment had been returned to the journalists.

Police say such incidents occur every year as zealots challenge longstanding restrictions by attempting to perform sacrifices in the spot in Jerusalem’s Old City where biblical Temples once stood.

The Torah mandates the sacrifice of the paschal lamb on the eve of Passover, which begins on Friday night. According to the Bible, the meat is to be eaten on the first night of the  festival, together with unleavened bread — matzah — and bitter herbs.

The landmark, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is considered the holiest site in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam. The competing claims are a central friction point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

AP contributed to this report.

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