Cheshvan 10, 5774, 14/10/13
Jewish activists continue to challenge ban on Jewish prayer at Judaism's holiest site, slam police "weakness."
by Ari Soffer and Ernie Singer
Jerusalem police arrested 10 Jews who prayed and sang Israel's national anthem "Hatikva" on the Temple Mount on Monday morning. They had come as part of a group of 30 who were divided by police into smaller groups, as part of a host of restrictions imposed upon Jewish visitors.
Following their arrest police closed the site to non-Muslim visitors.
In a video released by activists, the leader of the group addresses the rest of those assembled:
"We are standing here in the holiest place for the nation of Israel. To our regret, at the holiest place for the nation of Israel - as they said to us at the start - it is forbidden to pray. This is something we cannot agree to."
At that point, the group breaks into prayer, with one man producing and waving an Israeli flag.
The Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site and the location of the two Holy Temples of Jerusalem, the latter of which was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE.
Despite that fact, Jewish visitors face severe restrictions upon ascending the Mount, including a blanket ban on praying or on performing any other form of worship, as well as restrictions on the size of groups which can ascend. Those who violate the restrictions face arrest and a prolonged ban from ascending altogether.
Numerous court rulings have stipulated that Jews must be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount as a basic right to freedom of religion. Nevertheless, the Israeli police force has repeatedly ignored the rulings, citing unspecified "security concerns" as a pretext to continue enforcing the ban.
Police sometimes close the Mount to Jews altogether in response to Muslim riots - for days or weeks at a time - despite evidence that such violence is usually planned in advance for the specific purpose of forcing Jews out. Prominent Israeli MKs, such as Moshe Feiglin and Zeev Elkin, have been forced to leave the Temple Mount due to fears of violence.
Attorney Adi Kedar, who is representing the detainees on behalf of the Honenu legal-aid organization, responded to the arrests in a statement to the media.
"The Israel Police's level of discriminatory policy is repeatedly rising while trampling human rights and restricting Jewish movement in the most sacred places," he said.
"Freedom of expression is not valid on the Temple Mount," declared one of the Jewish worshippers, "It's time that freedom of expression and human rights will also be given to the Jews on the Temple Mount, and that everyone will have the great privilege to pray in this holy place."
Shai Malkah and Michael Puah of the Likud party's Jewish leadership (Manhigut Yehudit) faction criticized the arrests, accusing the police of neglecting their job out of fear of Muslim violence.
"We call on the police to stop their weakness and ineffectiveness against the violence and threats of the Muslims on the Mount.
"We must stop the situation in which Hamas flags are waved on the Temple Mount on a daily basis, while they arrest those who wave the Israeli flag."
This is the latest in a spate of arrests of Jewish worshippers on the Temple Mount. Earlier today, two women were arrested for praying at the gates of the Mount.
Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, who represents the young women on behalf of Honenu, said that he was advising them to press charges against the police.
"It is regrettable that the police do not give freedom of prayer to Jews near the Temple Mount. It's a case of illegal detention and I will recommend to the girls to file a civil suit."
Last week, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel of the Temple Institute, which educates about the Temple Mount and the Holy Temples, was arrested along with Jewish activist Yehuda Glick, as the two were visiting the site.
An eyewitness told Arutz Sheva that police used excessive violence in detaining the two, dragging them to the ground unnecessarily.
But Temple Mount activists remain undeterred, buoyed on by an increasing groundswell of popular support.
Recent years have seen a considerable increase in the number of Jews ascending the Mount - much to the anger of Islamist and Palestinian Authority leaders.
At the start of the month, a large group of hareidi-religious Jews ascended the Temple Mount - to jeers by Muslim worshippers - in a significant break from the majority of hareidi leaders, who (along with other rabbis) discourage Jews from ascending over concerns that they could accidentally violate the strict rules of ritual purity mandated at the site.
Other rabbis, however, dispute this view, claiming that the excessive caution over the laws of ritual purity deprive Jews of worshipping at their holiest site, and has all but surrendered the area to the Waqf, enabling a systematic campaign to remove every sign of ancient Jewish presence at the site and amid wholesale and illegal destruction of Jewish antiquities on the compound.