Court: Jews Are Allowed to Pray in Muslim Quarter

YERUSHALAYIM -
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 of Yerushalayim. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jews are allowed to pray in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, the Yerushalayim District Court ruled Tuesday. According to Judge Ron Alexander, police had no right arrest or even forcibly distance Jews who sought to pray anywhere in the Muslim Quarter, even if there was, as police claimed, a “security risk.” In order to detain or distance someone, a crime had to be committed, “and a court in Israel is not going to rule, directly or indirectly, that prayer is a crime,” said Alexander.

The decision came in the context of a case against two Jewish girls who last week 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, police official Ro’i Avrhami revealed that over the past month alone, police had arrested 27 people for davening in the Muslim Quarter, as well.

The reason for the ban on prayer there he said, was the same as for the ban on davening on Har Habayis itself – because it could endanger the peace. “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,” Avrahami told the court last week. 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 plaintiffs were defended by Itamar Ben-Gvir, the activist attorney, on behalf of the Honenu rights group. Commenting on the decision, Ben-Gvir said that “police policies in the Old City are racist, and the court’s cancellation of these policies is very welcome. Those who wish to pray in the Old City are now allowed to and do not have to worry about being arrested or distanced. Israel is a democratic and Jewish state and the policies instituted by police violated those principles. Police would never ban Muslims from praying anywhere, but unfortunately these Jewish plaintiffs were.”