TEL AVIV – An Israeli court on Monday ruled that Jewish visitors to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound may chant “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The people of Israel live”), since it constitutes a patriotic exclamation rather than a religious prayer and is therefore not in violation of the ban on uttering Jewish prayers at the holy site.
The ban on non-Muslim prayer at the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, is the result of a decades-long agreement with the Islamic Waqf, which administers the site.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruling was the result of a case involving a right-wing activist and lawyer who was removed from the site in 2015 and detained by the police for several hours for shouting the phrase.
Itamar Ben Gvir said his proclamation was in response to one of the Muslim women at the site who cursed a member of his tour group and shouted, “Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest)” at them.
He was detained by police for three hours under the claim that he had broken the law.
The judge ruled in Ben Gvir’s favor when the lawyer sued the police for wrongful detention.
“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 said, adding that the police should not have held Ben Gvir.
The judge also reprimanded the police for doing nothing to the Muslim woman who cursed Ben Gvir 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 judge wrote in his ruling.
Ben Gvir lost the second case, in which he sued both the police and the Waqf for discrimination. He showed the court footage from his entry to the Mount during the Sukkot festival and is heard asking police why non-Jewish tourists were being allowed free access while he and other Jewish visitors were delayed for several hours. The footage also shows police refusing to answer why the Jewish visitors were forced to wait. The judge ruled that the existence of a policy of discrimination against Jewish visitors at the site could not be proven.
The judge ordered the police to pay NIS 6,000 ($1,700) in compensation to Ben Gvir, in addition to legal expenses.
The attorney said that the ruling was “A gift to the Jewish people on the eve of Israel’s 70th Independence Day.”
“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.”