Behind the Headlines the Temple Mount Case
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Behind the Headlines the Temple Mount Case

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A recent spate of stormy demonstrations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were the direct consequence of a decision handed down by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court acquitting eight Jews charged with disturbing public order by praying on the Temple Mount. The court ruling in effect challenged the status quo on the Mount which was established back in June 1967 and has been in force ever since.

A few days after Israel took East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan arranged with local Moslem leaders that Israeli security forces would guard the walls surrounding the site while the Moslem leaders would be free to administer the area of the Temple Mount itself, including the two famous mosques: the Dome of the Rock and El Aksa.

Visitors–including Jews–would, however, have free access to the site, Dayan stressed. In order to ensure this, the key of the Mugrabi Gate one of the main entrances to the Temple Mount was taken from the Moslem notables and kept by the Israeli authorities.

Dayan’s arrangement later approved by the whole Cabinet, was a sincere attempt at compromise between the conflicting aims and interests of Moslems and Jews with regard to the Temple Mount. It left the administration of the site itself in the hands of the Moslems, but deprived them of exclusive control and assured the Jews free access. The Dayan arrangement specifically forbade Jews from praying on the Temple Mount.

While the arrangement was by and large accepted among Jews, there were always a few who believed that it prejudiced their rights. A number of rightist nationalists formed an organization named “The National Circles” and applied to the courts in 1968 for an order nisi instructing the Police Minister to show cause why he refused to allow Jews to pray on the Mount.

UNANIMOUS SUPREME COURT RULING

Five of the most senior justices of the Israeli Supreme Court heard the case. The various proceedings lasted almost two years. Eventually, the Supreme Court held unanimously that while the Temple Mount was a holy place for Jews as well as for Moslems, and while the site had certainly been a place of prayer for Jews in ancient times, nevertheless the government had been entitled to introduce its arrangement regarding the management of the site, including the instruction to the police to prevent Jews from praying there.

The Supreme Court ruling effectively defused a potentially explosive issue threatening the anyway complicated relations between Jews and Moslems in Jerusalem.

However, a tiny nationalistic group has continued periodically to attempt to pray on the Temple Mount. On May 8, 1975, eight young members of this group, while ostensibly touring the site, began to pray. They were almost through with their praying when an elderly Moslem noticed them and summoned his friends. A crowd of Moslems soon gathered and altercations broke out. The policemen (most of them Arabs) on duty at the police post on the Temple mount were called in to stop the clash. They detained the young Jews, who were subsequently brought to court.

ONGOING CAUSE OF TENSION

Magistrate Ruth Or, in her verdict issued Jan. 28, held that the instructions given to the policemen–to prevent Jews from praying on the Mount–were illegal, in that the law establishes the basic right of all believers to pray at their holy places. The magistrate criticized the Minister of Religious Affairs for not having established a praying procedure for both Jews and Moslems at the Temple Mount.

The government had introduced such arrangements for the common use of the Machpella Cave in Hebron by Moslems and Jews, the magistrate noted, but had refrained from doing so on the Temple Mount.

(The magistrate did not appear to take account of the fact that the Halacha–the Jewish Law–forbids Jews from praying on the Mount–and the Chief Rabbinate has specifically banned such prayer.)

The State Attorney has appealed the ruling to District Court–which may well reinstate the Supreme Court ruling of 1970. Meanwhile, the magistrate’s verdict is an ongoing cause of tension in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The police continue to bar would-be Jewish worshippers from the Mount, but Moslem anger will apparently only be assuaged if the magistrate’s decision is overruled.

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