A Jewish man was detained by police for bowing down on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Monday, a day after a court decision appeared to approve Jews engaging in such religious practices at the flashpoint holy site, bucking decades of enforcement against the practice.
Video clips showed two men trying to access the Temple Mount while wearing Jewish prayer shawls and tefillin and being stopped by police at an entrance security gate. One of the men was later detained after gaining entry.
The incident came a day after the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, in a near-unprecedented decision, ruled in favor of three Jewish teenagers who were temporarily barred from the Temple Mount compound after they bowed down and recited the “Shema Yisrael” prayer.
MK Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party, posted the video of the two men arriving at the security checkpoint and accused police of “not respecting a court decision.”
“The police are sending a message of anarchy and regrettably encouraging youth to not uphold judicial decisions,” he wrote.
The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, is the holiest site for Jews and site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam. It is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and tensions there helped ignite the 11-day Gaza war in May of last year.
During last month’s convergence of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover, the site saw nearly daily clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian rioters, stoking fears of serious violence.
Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej told the Kan public broadcaster in an interview that the court decision seemingly backing Jewish prayer “bordered on stupidity.”
“It reminds me of how one idiot can burn a whole forest,” he said. “It is not a judicial decision, but political. ”
“Everyone has their place to pray, with the Temple Mount for Muslims and the Western Wall for Jews,” Frej said. “The majority want things to continue as they are. We must not play with fire. We are heading toward an escalation.”
In his Sunday ruling, Judge Zion Saharay said that he did not consider bowing down and reciting a prayer sufficient cause to curtail freedom of religion for fear it would cause a disturbance at the site.
Saharay also cited Police Chief Kobi Shabtai in comments from last May that officers would ensure freedom of religion for “all residents of the country and the territories” at the flashpoint holy site.
But police sources said later Sunday that the judge had distorted Shabtai’s comments in an attempt to support his ruling. And the state prosecution said it would appeal his decision.
Responding to the ruling, and its potentially inflammatory consequence given the sensitivity of the contested holy site, the Prime Minister’s Office issued an unusual statement clarifying that no changes were planned in the status quo on the Temple Mount, which houses the Al Aqsa Mosque.
The status quo arrangement has frayed in recent years, as groups of Jews, including hardline religious nationalists, have regularly visited and prayed at the site. The Israeli government, nonetheless, says it is committed to maintaining the status quo, despite reports indicating that it turns a blind eye to Jews seeking to pray at the site.
Previous court rulings or statements by politicians that threatened to violate the status quo at the site have often led to clashes with Palestinians and international condemnation, including from regional actors Jordan and Turkey.
Jordan’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday criticized the magistrate’s court ruling as “legally null and void according to international law,” saying in a statement “the decision allows extremists to hold ceremonies at the Al-Aqsa compound.”
A report by Channel 12 from last July suggested that despite the repeated tensions at the site and the status quo, Israel has been allowing limited cases of Jewish prayers at the site, with police turning a blind eye, an accusation that the police have officially denied.