An Israeli court ruled Monday that it is permitted for visitors to the Temple Mount compound to call out, “Am Yisrael chai” (“The people of Israel live”), because it is a patriotic slogan rather than prayer.
Jews visiting the contested site are barred by Israeli law from praying there, under an arrangement instituted by Israel after it captured Jerusalem’s old City in the 1967 war.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court made its ruling in the case of Itamar Ben Gvir, a right-wing activist and lawyer who was removed from the site by police in September 2015 and detained for several hours after shouting out the slogan.
Ben Gvir was touring the site with a group of other Jewish people, when one of the Muslim women at the site cursed a member of his group and shouted out, “Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest”) at them, he claimed. He responded by shouting back, “Am Yisrael chai” and was promptly detained.
He was kept for some three hours by police, who said that he had broken the law.
Ben Gvir sued for wrongful detention, and the judge found in his favor, writing in his ruling, “During the tour [on the Temple Mount] and afterward, cries of ‘Allah is the greatest’ were heard, and there is nothing wrong with saying ‘the people of Israel live.'”
The judge added that there were no grounds for Ben Gvir’s detention, and criticized police for taking no action against a Muslim woman who cursed the attorney and his group.
“One of the Muslim visitors cursed a Jew in Arabic and told him, ‘Go away, you dog,’ and when the Jew asked for her details, the police refused to accept the details and did not bother to detain the woman,” the judge wrote in his ruling.
Ben Gvir had also sued both the police and the Muslim Waqf, which controls the site, for discrimination, saying that he and a group of Jews were forced to wait an hour and a half before being allowed to enter the site, while groups of tourists were permitted to go through. The judge rejected that claim against the police.
The attorney told Hadashot news that his court victory was “A gift to the Jewish people on the eve of Israel’s 70th Independence Day.”
He said he hoped that the next development would be for the courts to allow Jews to pray at the site.
“I believe that the time has come for the courts to rule that Jews are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, just as Muslims are permitted to pray at the site,” he said. “There can be no wrongful discrimination at the most important site for the people of Israel.”
The Temple Mount houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, and is considered Islam’s third-holiest site. It is the holiest place in Judaism, revered by Jews as the location of the biblical Jewish temples.
Under the present arrangement instituted by Israel after it captured Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 war, the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, remains under Jordan’s religious custodianship. Jews are allowed to visit the compound but are barred from religious worship or prayer.
Last July, the Temple Mount became the focus of a major crisis between Israeli authorities, Palestinians, and Jordan over security measures introduced at the entrances to the compound. Metal detectors and cameras were installed following a deadly attack in which three Arab Israelis emerged from the site and shot dead two Israeli police officers using weapons that had been smuggled in. The upgraded security measures were all ultimately removed amid major protests by the Palestinians and elsewhere in the Muslim world.