Alyse LichtenfeldThe writer, originally from Highland Park, Illinois, now lives in Herzliya where she is a Government and Diplomacy student at IDC.
Israeli society and politics are constructed of multiple religions and ethnicities, and their respective aspirations as citizens of Israel. The existence of a Jewish majority has resulted in many aspects of society being governed by Jewish law, though Israel is not and never intended to be a theocracy, as Ben Gurion clarified in the status quo agreement. However, Israel certainly proudly wears its Jewish identity, whether religious or leaning towards a more Jewish ethnic identity (Lapidoth, 1998).
While Israel has a Jewish majority, Freedom of Religion is a basic right in Israel. As ensured by the Declaration of Independence, all citizens of Israel enjoy equal rights regardless of religion, race, or gender. In addition, the holy places of all religions will be safeguarded. (Cohen, 1998). While this right is not legally binding, it is crucial when dealing with the interpretation of law, and the rights codified into the Basic Laws of 1992 are upheld in its spirit. (Lapidoth, 1998).
It is an unfortunate fact that on our holiest ground, Jewish religious rights have been snatched from us on the basis of maintaining and promoting “public order and security.”
The Temple Mount, or Har Habayit, is undeniably the holiest site for Jews. It is where the first and second Beit Hamikdash stood, and where our third will stand. It is an unfortunate fact that on our holiest ground, Jewish religious rights have been snatched from us on the basis of maintaining and promoting “public order and security” (Lapidoth, 1998, from an Israeli Supreme Court statement). The only true impediment to public order and security on Temple Mount is the incitement of terror by Arab religious leaders in reaction to Jews entering the area. This originates in an Arab society which is hostile toward Jewish footsteps on Temple Mount where their shrine stands.
Freedom of Religion in Israel is severed by the fact that this basic right is not properly upheld. While it is promised that holy sites will be safeguarded, the holiest Jewish site is certainly not being safeguarded. Firstly, Jews are not even permitted to practice any religious act on Temple Mount. While claims of promoting peace and security seem pleasant and pragmatic, giving into the hatefully inspired wishes of the Islamic Waqf, the Islamic organization that controls Temple Mount, Israel is putting the basic right Freedom of Religion in the back seat.
Furthermore, even after accepting the solemn fact of lack of Jewish rights on the Temple Mount, only certain hours exist for non-Muslims who wish to visit the Temple Mount. While a few hours allocated to tourists visiting the actual mosque or shrine would be reasonable, so as to preserve Muslim prayer services, strictly regulating times to simply walk in the area is a phenomenon that is unheard of. For instance, the Western Wall, or HaKotel, under Jewish control, would never be off limits for non-Jews.
It is about time for reservations of Freedom of Religion to be closely examined, especially in the case of the Temple Mount where promoting peace and security is clearly not a priority of the other side.
Lapidoth, R; Freedom of Religion and Conscience in Israel, 47 Cath. U.L. Rev 441 (1998)
Cohn, Haim. "Israel Among the Nations." Kluwer Law International (1998): n. pag. Web.