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Court rules Israeli visitors to Temple Mount may use patriotic slogan at site

During the recent flareup of violence in Jerusalem, Guterres called for de-escalation and respect for the status quo at holy sites after Israel installed metal detectors at the Haram al-Sharif mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount
AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)
Court says 'Am Yisrael Chai' not a religious phrase, therefore does not violate ban on Jewish prayer at site

An Israeli court ruled Monday that Israeli visitors to Jerusalem's flashpoint Temple Mount compound may proclaim "Am Yisrael Chai" ("The people of Israel live") at the site because it is a patriotic slogan and not a religious phrase and therefore does not violate the ban on Jewish prayer at the site.

According to a longstanding arrangement which governs the fragile status quo at the Temple Mount -- a holy site for both Jews and Muslims -- Jewish visitors to the compound are prohibited from praying there.

The ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court came in response to the case against right-wing activist and lawyer Itamar Ben Gvir who was in September 2015 removed from the site and detained by police for several hours after calling out the slogan.

Ben Gvir says that he made the proclamation in response to a Muslim woman at the site who cursed at a member of a Jewish tour group he was with at the site and shouted “Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is great”) at them.

AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

Ben Gvir, an attorney and leader of the far-right Oztma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party who is best known for his defense of fellow far-right activists accused of hate crimes against Palestinians and other minorities, sued the police for discrimination and wrongful detention.

The court ruled in Ben Gvir's favor on charges of wrongful detention, with the presiding justice in the case writing in his ruling that "during the tour [on the Temple Mount] and afterward, cries of ‘Allah is the greatest’ were heard, and there is nothing wrong with saying ‘the people of Israel live'."

The judge also criticized police for not taking action against the Muslim woman who allegedly cursed the attorney and his group.

"One of the Muslim visitors cursed a Jew in Arabic and told him, ‘go away, you dog,’ and when the Jew asked for her details, the police refused to accept the details and did not bother to detain the woman," the justice wrote.

The judge rejected Ben Gvir's accusations of discrimination, which were based on a claim that he and his group were forced to wait over an hour to enter the site while a group of tourists were permitted immediate entry.

AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)

Ben Gvir told Israel's Hadashot TV news that the ruling was "a gift to the Jewish people on the eve of Israel’s 70th Independence Day," and said he hoped that the courts would next rule that Jews be allowed to pray at the flashpoint site.

"I believe that the time has come for the courts to rule that Jews are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, just as Muslims are permitted to pray at the site," he said. "There can be no wrongful discrimination at the most important site for the people of Israel."

The hilltop compound is known as the Temple Mount to Jews and as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims. It includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.

Palestinians believe that Israel intends to change the status-quo at the site while many Israelis voice frustration over what they see as restrictions on Jewish prayer at the complex.

Last month, the government of Jordan -- the official custodians of Jerusalem's Muslim and Christian holy sites -- filed a complaint after an Israeli court ruled that permits Jews to congregate for prayer just outside the Temple Mount's gated entrance.

Israel has vowed repeatedly to maintain the status quo, which allows Muslim prayer there but forbids Jewish prayer and religious rituals.

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