The Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday ruled against four Jewish teens who prayed on the Temple Mount, reversing a lower court’s decision, which Palestinians and Jordan claimed had legitimized the violation of the status quo at the flashpoint Jerusalem site.
The four suspects were arrested last week by police and slapped with a 15-day ban from the Old City for bowing down and reciting the “Shema Yisrael” prayer at the Temple Mount, in violation of the status quo by which Muslims may visit and pray at the site while non-Muslims are barred from partaking in any ritual activity.
The teens appealed the ban, arguing that they had read media reports in which Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai guaranteed all three religions freedom of worship in Jerusalem. Their defense was accepted on Sunday by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, which nullified their 15-day ban. While the scope of the ruling was particularly narrow, it sparked immediate wrath from the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Jordan, leading the Prime Minister’s Office to issue a statement that there would be no change to the status quo.
The next day, police announced that they would appeal the ruling, bringing the matter to the district court to decide.
The judge ruled on Wednesday that relying on remarks allegedly made in media reports “in order to violate explicit provisions and nullify the offenses attributed to them, is problematic, to say the least.”
A right to freedom of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount “is not absolute, and it should be superseded by other interests, among them the safeguarding of public order,” Judge Einat Avman Muller wrote.
Responding to the ruling, the teens’ attorney Nati Rom claimed that “from the moment the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruling was made, a crazy campaign of pressure and threats began… [aimed at] infringing on the independence of the court, and polluting the judicial process.”
The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, is the holiest site for Jews and site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam. It is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and tensions there were among the triggers of an 11-day war in Gaza last May.
Jordan has long maintained that its treaties with Israel grant it custodianship over Jerusalem’s Christian and Muslim holy sites; while Israel has never officially accepted this claim, it grants day-to-day administration of the Temple Mount to the Jordan-funded Waqf.
The agreement by which Jews can visit the Mount but not pray there has frayed in recent years, as groups of Jews, including hardline religious nationalists, have regularly visited and prayed at the site. The Israeli government, nonetheless, says it is committed to maintaining the status quo, despite reports indicating it has turned a blind eye to some Jews seeking to pray at the Mount.
During last month’s convergence of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover, the site saw nearly daily clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian rioters.