by David Kirshenbaum
It is time the police start enforcing the most basic of religious rights, for Jews as well as Muslims.
In a democracy that prides itself on upholding free religious expression, incitement, intimidation and the use of deadly violence to prevent such free expression should not be tolerated, and certainly not rewarded. It shouldn’t matter whether the violence is engaged in by members of the majority religion or by members of a religious minority.
Sadly, this principle is not followed in the State of Israel.
Judaism’s holiest site for over 3,000 years has been the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is on the Temple Mount that both the First and Second Temples stood, where millions of Jews from all over the Israel and the Diaspora made the three Festival Pilgrimages and where, according to Jewish belief, the Third Temple, ushering in the days of the Messiah, is destined to be built. Throughout history, wherever Jews were engaged in prayer, they faced Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem, they pray in the direction of the Temple Mount.
Yet, even though the State of Israel is in full control of Jerusalem, Jews, Christians and all non-Muslims are forbidden entry to the Temple Mount, except during very limited hours. And during those few hours, Jews can only walk in near silence; they may not pray.
A member of the Wakf, the Muslim religious council, monitors the movements of Jewish visitors, and the Israel Police will arrest any Jew upon a complaint by a Wakf member that a Jew was praying on the Temple Mount.
This happened to me and my daughter when we visited the Temple Mount the day before her wedding.
Her swaying in silent meditation was enough to anger our Wakf monitor and land us in the police station for hours for threatening the public welfare.
Any discussion of changing this woeful crushing of religious freedom elicits threats of severe violence from the Wakf, Arab Knesset members and the Islamic Movement in Israel. This incitement works wonders, as Israeli law enforcement officials regularly cite these threats in defending their discriminatory treatment of Jews on the Temple Mount.
During Jewish holiday periods, the level of incitement is raised, often accompanied by the hurling of blocks of stone at Jews on the Temple Mount and at Jewish worshipers in the Western Wall Plaza.
This pattern repeated itself during the this past Succot.
Israeli police responded in the way they always do: They did not stand up to the violent lawbreakers and protect the basic religious rights of law-abiding Jews. Nor did they take the less challenging but less equitable option of closing down the Temple Mount to all.
While this would have unfairly punished Jewish worshipers, including Muslims in the ban might have at least served as a deterrence to future violence.
Some price would have been paid by the perpetrators of religious terror.
Instead, the police took the path that requires the least work, elicits the least resistance, and results in the greatest inequity. On three of the Festival days, police closed the Temple Mount, not to Muslims, but only to Jews and other non-Muslims. Hate and violence were rewarded.
On a recent post-Succot visit to the Temple Mount – I was one of those turned away during the holiday – the group of Jews I was with had to wait an hour until we were allowed in. The police felt unable to deal with more than 25 identifiably Jewish visitors at a time. While we waited for police approval, hundreds of tourists, mostly from Europe, flowed in without a problem.
When we finally entered, we were immediately greeted by taunting screams from tens of Arab women. The harassment of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount is part of their daily routine. Our group was led by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, a member of the battalion of Paratroopers that liberated the Old City and the Temple Mount in the Six Day War.
Almost immediately, and frequently during the visit, Rabbi Ariel was spoken to rudely by the police, who didn’t like where he was standing or how fast or slow he was moving. At the end of the visit, as were exiting, Rabbi Ariel, who is 74 and battling cancer, was arrested and roughed up in the process.
What enraged the police and the Wakf was that Rabbi Ariel purportedly bowed down in a form of prayer.
The fear that the police have of the Arabs on the Temple Mount is palpable. When we were verbally assaulted by the Arabs upon our entry, the police made not the slightest effort to quiet them, this in marked distinction from their immediate and angry silencing of any form of Jewish prayer. Rather, their response was to quickly move us past the hateful bigots. And when we were again cursed near the end of our visit, the sole and frightened response of the police was to ask us to leave.
It is time the police start enforcing the most basic of religious rights, for Jews as well as Muslims, that our law enforcement authorities cease cowering in the face of Arab violence and stop their shameful hiding behind Muslim religious terror as an excuse for their failure to uphold the law.
The writer is an attorney in Israel and New York.