‘New’ Police Rule: Jews Can’t Daven in Muslim Quarter

Israeli border police on guard at Damascus Gate in the Old City as security forces shut down the area while searching for a suspect after a chareidi man was stabbed in the Muslim Quarter, on May 2. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli border police on guard at Damascus Gate in the Old City. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

During a hearing in which police presented to the Yerushalayim District Court its policy on preventing Jews who seek to visit Har HaBayis from davening there, officials revealed that they had the same policy in place for the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. And while Gedolei Yisroel are unanimous in their ruling that no Jew should ascend Har HaBayis at this time, there is no ban on visiting – or davening – anywhere in the Old City, including the Muslim Quarter, which actually contains the remains of many Jewish sites and shuls – including no less a site than the Kosel Hakatan, a section of the Kosel that has been opened up within the Muslim Quarter.

In an exchange with attorneys from legal rights organization Honenu, Commander Ro’i Avrahami said that there was a ban on “prayers at the gates of the Har HaBayis,” and at other places as well. “The ban is not specifically against praying, but praying is banned because it leads to unrest, and police have the power to enforce a ban on praying because of this.” When asked where Jews are allowed to pray, Avrahami said that prayers anywhere in the Jewish Quarter were fine, but “one is not allowed to pray in the Muslim Quarter. There are general rules that cannot be broken, and prayer in the Muslim Quarter leads to tension.”

The statements was given in the context of a case against two Jewish girls who attempted to say Tehillim at the entrance to one of the gates of Har HaBayis, and not on the mount itself. As the ban on prayer is generally thought to be only on Har HaBayis, the two contended that they had been falsely arrested, since the prayers they were saying were not actually on Har HaBayis. However, in the course of the discussion, Avrahami revealed that over the past month alone, police had arrested 27 people for davening in the Muslim Quarter, as well.

The court ruled against the girls, saying that police, who are charged with keeping public order, had the right to ban prayer anywhere they felt it would cause public disorder.

In a statement, Honenu said that police arrests of Jews attempting to pray outside of Har HaBayis had “turned into a phenomenon. Now, police have let the cat out of the bag and admitted that they consider prayer in the Muslim Quarter illegal as well.” Speaking to Channel Ten, Honenu attorney said that police were acting illegally. “In their attempts to lessen their workload, they have taken on themselves to ban prayer illegally, and based on that policy arrested our clients for no reason, violating their rights to freedom of movement and speech.”

In response, police said that the two were “well-known activists who attempted to pray on a main thoroughfare outside Har HaBayis, a place where there is much traffic and activity. Police dedicate a great deal of effort to ensuring that everyone is able to fulfill the tenets of their religion. But we will act forcefully against anyone who attempts to endanger the welfare of the public, including those who intentionally provoke others.”