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The Temple Mount Bird's-eye View and Aliya Guide
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Temple Mount Awakening Response to the Rabbinical "ban"
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Following are a series of letters written between The Temple Institute and the Ministry of Internal Security, over the past six months. We present the letters for the purpose of highlighting present police practice concerning observant Jews who wish to visit the Temple Mount, and exposing the discriminatory nature of this practice. We refrain at this point from calling it "policy," for, as you will read below, the official police policy, as it was expressed to us, is in direct contradiction to the actual practice that takes place on location at the Temple Mount. We wish to make it abundantly clear that we appreciate the police presence on the Temple Mount, and regard it as vital for maintaining law and order. But we do protest the political agenda which lurks behind the police policy, which is discriminatory againt religious Jews that wish to fulfill the mitzva of "Revering My Holy Temple" (Mora Mikdash), by visiting the mount. There is no place in a democratic society, especially one which claims to uphold the principles of freedom of religion, and freedom of access to places of worship, for this type of behavior. There is certainly no place for this policy in the context of Israel as a Jewish state. We will not make peace with this policy, but will continue to protest against it, until the day that our basic human rights are recognized, and equality before the law has been granted us.
 
 
In October 2004, one year after the Temple Mount was reopened to non-Moslem visitors, a member of The Temple Institute's research staff wrote to then Minister of Internal Security Tzachi Hanegbi, asking for his perspective on the security ramifications presented by the re-opening of the mount. On October 24, he received the following answer. The Hebrew is followed by an English translation:
 
 
The English translation:
 
 

Prime Minister's Office

October 24, 2004

Dear ****,

I appreciate your letter, dated October of this year. There is no question about the fact that the presence of Jews on the Temple Mount strengthens Jewish sovereignty in this holy site in a significant way. Since the Mount was reopened on July 20, 2003, it has been visited by more than 70,000 Jews. These visits necessitate a permanent police presence on the Mount, and they serve to help the Palestinians get used to the fact that the Jewish people have a deep bond with the dwelling place of the Holy Temple. Obviously, this adds to the strength of our claim to sovereignty on the Mount.

With Blessings,
Zachi HaNegbi

 

We were very gratified by Minister Hanegbi's response: not only was Israeli sovereignty enhanced by the increased presence of both Israeli policemen and Jewish visitors, an extremely important development in light of successive Israeli governments' willingness to discuss relinquishing sovereignty of the Mount to the Palestinians, (G-d forbid), but the official Police tabulation of more than 70,000 Jewish visitors to the Mount over the previous twelve months even more importantly, testified to the eternal Jewish attachment to the site of the Holy Temple, as well as to a reawakening and renewal of the yearning among Jews to visit the site in order to fufill a religious obligation as well as a manifestation of their longing to see the Holy Temple rebuilt.

Although restrictions were still being imposed on religious Jews, they were considerably more relaxed than they had been prior to the Mount's being closed to all non-Moslems in October 2000, when the Arabs began their murderous campaign against the Jews and the Jewish state. Some months after the re-opening, while in the midst of the relentless Arab violence, the Chief of the Jerusalem Police, Mikki Levi made a surprise visit one morning to greet a group of Jews on the Mount. He informed those present that the police viewed very positively the ever increasing numbers of Jews who were visiting the Mount. He implied that, although it would take time, and would require patience, all efforts would be made to continually ease the restrictions. When asked specifically about the constant tailing of Jewish visitors by Wakf observers, Police Chief Levi answered that as the number of Jewish visitors increased, the Wakf wouldn't be able to maintain this practise. In short, things were promising.

Minister Hanegbi was subsequently replaced by a new Internal Security Minister, Gideon Ezra. On December 28, 2004, Rabbi Chaim Richman of The Temple Institute, and five American visitors he was accompanying, were startled to be greeted by a sharp deterioration in police attitudes to Jewish visitors to the Mount, and a blatant violation of their rights and dignity. Rabbi Richman proceeded to write a complaint and an inquiry into official police policy concerning religious Jewish visitors to the Mount. Below is a fascimile of the original query, as written to the Office of the Auditor General of the Ministry of Internal Security, Public Complaint Department. The details of this particular incident are described in the letter. (The highlights have been added for readers on the site):

Below is the English translation of the above query:
 

December 28, 2004

To the Auditor General & Ombudsman
Israel Public Security Forces

Re.: The Policy of the Israel Police Regarding Jewish Visitors to the Temple Mount

Sir,

For over 13 years, I have been visiting the Temple Mount, in the areas permitted according to Jewish law. As a director at the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, I am also accustomed to guiding various groups of both Jews and non-Jewish tourists from abroad at the site. I am known personally to the police officers who serve on the Mount.

Since the Mount was re-opened to Jewish visitors in June, 2003, I have been visiting the site at least once a week, and upon occasion I have the opportunity to lead large and influential groups of tourists from other countries.

This morning I arrived at the Mugrabi Gate at 8:30 AM with 5 American Jews, all wearing kippot. These are older men, and they happen to be the heads of an esteemed congregation in the United States. I was shocked when the policeman at the gate (whose name is Motti), whose is assigned to receive and check the visitors, made radio contact with an officer on the Mount, and upon relaying to this officer that a number of religious Jews had arrived and were requesting to ascend, received instructions not to allow us to ascend without first presenting ID. This, despite the fact that since the Mount was re-opened, we have not been required to present ID's.

My group disbanded in order for everyone to go and fetch their documentation, in order to regroup and return to the gate with the same so that we could proceed with our visit. This we did, and when we returned, the policeman reported each name to the officer, and recorded our names in a notebook. All the while, large numbers of foreign tourists were ascending the Temple Mount and not one was required to present any sort of identification. This is reminiscent of those years when the policemen on the Mount used to record the names of the kippa-wearing visitors on an official police form whose title read "List of Suspects."

It would be superfluous to mention the feeling of oppression and degradation that we, religious Jews, are made to feel upon realizing that we are considered to be dangerous and even suspicious - simply because the holiest spot in the world for the Jewish people is indeed important to us, and we desire to visit it and exercise our basic rights as citizens of the State of Israel and as Jews. And all the while, any foreign tourist may ascend the Mount, unhindered.

Finally we were permitted to ascend. Only 2 minutes passed, and we managed to proceed no more than 15 meters along our route, when a policeman carrying a video camera approached us. He asked us who was the leader of the group, and I identified myself. He then proceeded to film me, and also instructed each member of my group to stand still for a moment while he filmed each one, separately.

This is disturbing and most distressing. My question is this: Is this practice, which is employed solely in the case of religious Jews, the State's official policy? Is it legal? And if so, on the basis of what law are innocent Jews treated in such a discriminatory and degrading manner?

I thank you for your reply.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Chaim Richman
Director, International Department
THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE

 

The following response from the Office of the Auditor General of the Ministry of Internal Security, Public Complaint Department, was faxed to The Temple Institute on February 28, 2005. (The highlights have been added for readers on the site):
Below is the English translation of the above Police response:
 

STATE OF ISRAEL
Ministry of Internal Security

-- Non-Classified --

Office of the Auditor General of the Ministry of Internal Security
Public Complaint Department

Jerusalem, 19 Adar 1 5765
28/02/2005

Ref. No. 00039033

Rabbi Chaim Richman
Director, International Department
Fax. 02-6274529

Sir,

Re.: Visitors to the Temple Mount

1. On August 20, 2003, the Temple Mount was re-opened to visitors in a unilateral move by the Israel Police, after having been closed to visitors for approximately 3 years, on.1 account of the Al Aksa Intifada.

2. The re-opening of the Mount was marked by the introduction of new, unprecedented measures taken by the Israel Police which are to the benefit of visitors.

These measures include:

     A. The admittance of groups without size limitation.
     B. The admittance of Jewish groups without police escort.
     C. The admittance of groups without Wakf escort.

3. In light of repeated threats regarding the Temple Mount, the police conduct spot checks of those entering the Temple Mount. These checks include examination of documentation, body searches, preventative photography, etc.

4. The Israel Police makes considerable efforts to enable Jews to exercise their rights to visit the Temple Mount without limitations or prohibitions.

5. I regret the aggravation that you and the other visitors experienced. We will do our utmost in order to provide the best possible service to those who visit.

With blessings,

Sharon Michael

Public Complaints Department

 

 
Two months after we faxed our inquiry, we received the official police answer. Or did we? Did we receive answers to our questions, or did we, in fact, receive a whitewash?

Let's have a second look:

In our letter we reported the following incidents:

  1. the policeman at the gate whose is assigned to receive and check the visitors, made radio contact with an officer on the Mount, and upon relaying to this officer that a number of religious Jews had arrived and were requesting to ascend, received instructions not to allow us to ascend without first presenting ID. [This was a departure from previous practice.]
  2. upon returning with our identifying documentation, [for Rabbi Richman his Israeli ID card; for the five American guests, their U.S. passports] the policeman reported each name to the officer, and recorded our names in a notebook. All the while, large numbers of foreign tourists were ascending the Temple Mount and not one was required to present any sort of identification.
  3. Finally we were permitted to ascend. Only 2 minutes passed, and we managed to proceed no more than 15 meters along our route, when a policeman carrying a video camera approached us. He asked us who was the leader of the group, and I identified myself. He then proceeded to film me, and also instructed each member of my group to stand still for a moment while he filmed each one, separately.

To these three specific complaints, and to our inquiry as to whether this discriminatory and degrading practice was in fact official police policy, or merely the whim of the officer assigned to the Temple Mount, we received the following. Let's examine each aspect of the response carefully:

The re-opening of the Mount was marked by the introduction of new, unprecedented measures taken by the Israel Police which are to the benefit of visitors.

These measures include:

     A. The admittance of groups without size limitation.
     B. The admittance of Jewish groups without police escort.
     C. The admittance of groups without Wakf escort.

In light of repeated threats regarding the Temple Mount, the police conduct spot checks of those entering the Temple Mount. These checks include examination of documentation, body searches, preventative photography, etc.
 

Let's examine this one step at a time. The investigator assigned to answering our questions has reported that no group wishing to enter the Temple Mount is restricted in size:

     A. The admittance of groups without size limitation.

Is this true or is this false?

 
FALSE!

As the picture shows, religious Jews are detained at the Mougrabhi Gate entrance to the Temple Mount, and must wait for the small number of religious Jews who are already on the mount to exit, before they are allowed in. "Size limitation" for religious Jews is the reality since the mount was reopened on August 20, 2003. Religious Jews are not allowed to enter the mount freely as are all other individuals or groups that visit. A group of religious Jews desiring to go up, always require a head-count, and if their numbers exceed what the police deem acceptable, (sometimes five Jews, sometimes 45), they are split into groups and can only enter the mount one group at a time.
But what about our police investigator's next claim?

     B. The admittance of Jewish groups without police escort.

What do we say to this? True or false?

 
FALSE!

A religious Jew is never allowed on the Temple Mount without at least two policemen accompanying him. One would like to assume that this is for the protection of the Jews. But if so, why would the police investigator deny it? And why would it not be offical police policy if the true concern is for the safety of the Jews? Or is the real reason behind the escort the enforcement of Wakf demands that Jews not be allowed to pray or sing, or carry or read from their holy books, while visiting this holiest of sites?

 
But what about our police investigator's third claim?

     C. The admittance of groups without Wakf escort.

Again, we ask: True or false?

 
FALSE!

Every visit by a religious Jew, whether an individual, or in a small group, is shadowed by Wakf "officials". Otherwise, the Wakf would not allow the Jews to enter. Their job is to observe the religious Jews for any suspected sign of religious activity, such as standing still for "too long a time", moving one's lips, or swaying back and forth. Praying or reciting verse from the scriptures in Hebrew are not tolerated. (Should a police or a Wakf "official" suspect the Jew of any of these activites, he will be rushed, and physically removed from the Mount. In many cases he will be brought to the local precinct where he will be interrogated and may be forced to sign a document forbidding him to return to the Mount.) Needless to say, Jews are not allowed up to the mount while wearing or carrying any religious paraphenalia, such as a tallit, tefillin or Tanach, (Bible). It should be added that the same restriction on any expression of religious faith is also applied to Christian visitors to the Mount.

 
Now for our police investigator's final assurance:

In light of repeated threats regarding the Temple Mount, the police conduct spot checks of those entering the Temple Mount. These checks include examination of documentation, body searches, preventative photography, etc.

Again: True or false?

 
FALSE!

Absolutely false, again! While random spot checks may be official policy concerning other groups and individuals entering the Temple Mount, religious Jews, regardless of their age, appearance, sex, or nationality, must pass a security check each and every time they enter the mount, without exception.
 

 

     ...FALSE!

 

 

     ... and FALSE!

Where do we go from here? The above police response to our inquiry was insufficient, inaccurate, insulting... and false. Our specific questions were not addressed, and what we received instead were policy platitudes that may exist in a book on a desk in an office, but bear no resemblance to the reality as it transpires every day. Six days a week Religious Jews visit the Temple Mount as an act of devotion and a religious obligation. (Non-Moslems are not allowed on the mount on Friday.) And six days a week religious Jews are subjected to discriminatory and humiliating treatment.

We are pursuing our correspondence with the police, as we are not satisfied with the non-answers that we have received. Following is the text of our response, dated and sent on March 3, 2005:
 

Below is the English translation:

  March 03, 2005

To the Auditor General & Ombudsman
Israel Public Security Forces

Sir,

I address myself to the answer to my previous inquiry that I received from Michael Sharon of the Public Complaint Department (see attached).

I do not see anything in this letter which specifically relates to my question regarding the policy of the Israel Police with regards to Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount.

Unfortunately, the "measures" which are mentioned in this letter simply do not reflect the real truth. Any kippa-wearing individual who ascends the Temple Mount knows full well that the groups of religious Jews are indeed subject to size limitation, that at least two policemen closely accompany them, and that their every step is shadowed by at least one member of the Wakf, who works in tandem with the police.

As far as your claim that the police conduct "spot checks:" These are not "spot checks" at all. Rather, the fact is that every single religious Jew is checked. On the other hand, non-Jewish tourists do go through a routine security check, however they are not subject to any interrogation, and .neither are they photographed. Absolutely no questions are posed to them, and (unlike the Jews) their names are not recorded in any list whatsoever.

In the light of the facts on the ground, I once again request that you relate to my inquiry - in earnest, and truthfully.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Chaim Richman
Director, International Dept.
The Temple Institute

 

We await the response of the Ministry of Internal Security, and will be posting it here when we receive it. We will not rest until our questions have been answered "earnestly and truthfully." Nor will we come to terms with the police policy towards devout Jews attempting to visit the site of the Holy Temple, until our right and dignity have been recognized: "Let My people go, that they may worship Me."

 

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