06 September 2018
Israel’s Supreme Court has asked the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “justify” a longstanding ban on Jewish prayer inside East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque complex.
Israeli daily Maariv reported in August that the court — Israel’s highest judicial authority — had given the government 60 days to provide a reason why Jews were forbidden from praying at the flashpoint holy site.
The move reportedly comes in response to a petition lodged with the court by Moked, the Israeli Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights, an NGO that objects to what it describes as “government restrictions on non-Muslims” at the mosque complex.
“Israeli police… use their authority to apply explicitly discriminatory policies [against Jewish worshippers] that violate the freedom of worship,” the petition reads.
“The ban on non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount [i.e., the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex]… has remained in place for decades,” the NGO adds.
The petition was filed by attorney Eitan Finkelstein against Israel Police, police chief Roni Alsheich, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), Minister of Religion David Azoulay (Shas), and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
The Supreme Court accepted Moked’s petition, and Justice Neal Hendel has ordered the State to issue a formal response justifying its policy within 60 days.
It remains unclear whether the court’s request will pave the way for a legal decision allowing Jews to pray at the mosque complex. The court is scheduled to report back in October.
Since 2003, the Israeli authorities have allowed Jewish settlers to enter Al-Aqsa in increasing numbers while forbidding them from praying inside the site.
In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled that the freedom of worship extends to Jews visiting al-Aqsa. A 2015 ruling rejected a two-year ban imposed by the police on Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick, who became an MK for the Likud a year later.
The government of Jordan has condemned the Supreme Court decision to consider the request.
“This idea has already been ruled out,” Jordanian Minister of Religious Endowments Abdul Nasser Abu al-Basal was quoted as saying by Jordan’s Petra News Agency.
“The courts of the [Israeli] occupation have no jurisdiction or authority over Al-Aqsa,” he added.