This morning’s court ruling reaffirming Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount and harshly rebuking police for failing to uphold that right has left Temple Mount activists euphoric. Judges earlier this week dismissed a police ban on veteran Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick from visiting the holy site as baseless, setting an important legal precedent..
But Rabbi Chaim Richman, International Director of the Temple Mount institute, says that while there is indeed cause for optimism, but it should be cautious.
“Honestly, it’s very encouraging that the judicial branch is consistent, but there’s nothing new with this decision. It is entirely consistent with decisions from different courts over the last few decades.”
“We’ve all gone through it,” says Rabbi Richman, speaking of other activists who have been banned by the police from the site or have seen days in court.
But Rabbi Richman will not take away the importance of this particular decision. Considering that Rabbi Yehudah Glick is the plaintiff in this case, it will receive much more attention than previous decisions by the courts.
“This is significant because, although Rabbi Glick filed his petition well before the shooting incident, he is at the center of this decision," said Rabbi Richman, referring to an attempt on Glick's life last year.
"There is also a huge monetary sum being awarded to him because of lost wages (as a tour guide on the Mount). In addition, the judge said point blank ‘the police behavior is without grounds and distancing him from the site was illegal'.”
“The euphoria is justified. It’s been said now that it’s the police’s job to protect Jews’ prayer rights. We’re not imagining this. Jews are allowed there.”
What Will Be Different?
Rabbi Richman is still uncertain much will change, considering past court decisions declaring Jewish prayer there legal - decisions effectively ignored by the police.
“Just this morning Jews visiting the Temple Mount received the same treatment. Sure, many people will say as they have in the past ‘let’s bring copies of the court ruling with us and wave it in the police’s faces,’ but we have done that before. The police will likely say again, ‘we have a mandate to keep the peace.’”
He does not fully blame the police though, understanding they are both in a position of public security and also speculating that their orders come from high in the government.
“There’s a deeper issue here. The police are taking their orders from a higher place. They are getting their support from the Prime Minister and it all goes back to Israel’s relationship with Jordan. The accord between Israel and Jordan promises religious freedom of worship there. Yet, there is this strange, fictitious ‘status quo’ that non-Muslims – including Christians – cannot pray up there.”
What Rabbi Richman alludes to is that Jordan officially governs the Temple Mount, encapsulated in the 1994 treaty between Israel and Jordan. More specifically, it is in the hands of the Jordanian Islamic Trust – the Waqf.
Going deeper, he spoke of times he has seen Christians asked to leave their Bibles behind on the Temple Mount or to tuck their cross necklaces into their shirts. The Rabbi, being sure to claim he does not have a background in politics or diplomacy, still said a lot of the progress that can be made depends on the whims – and reputation – of the Jordanian government.
“This is one way for King Hussein to flex his muscles. We are so concerned about bending over backwards to please Jordan. The reason that we do not have visits to the Mount on Tisha b’Av or Passover or Sukkot is because Abdullah (King Abdullah II of Jordan) tells Bibi ‘I don’t want Jews on the Temple Mount those days.’ Jordan recalled its ambassador for months when the police closed the Temple Mount plaza after Yehudah Glick’s shooting.”
Pushing the Temple Mount Abroad
When asked if garnering more support and pressure for rights on the Mount for Jews meant pushing this message abroad, he was certain of it.
“I feel the world has to become aware of what is happening here. We at the Temple Institute have had a number of top tier journalists and US Congressmen visit the site, including Dennis Ross of Florida. They do not present themselves as foreign dignitaries. They present themselves as Jews, then get the same treatment and warnings other Jewish visitors do. They become incensed over this.”
He was less enthusiastic about such a thing happening with European dignitaries, although he did not dismiss it. At the moment, his focus is on the United States. When asked if he saw this as part of a ‘civil rights’ campaign, he responded:
“It’s not so much a question of civil rights but understanding this is about sovereignty; that this is our center, our anchor.”
All in all, despite his pessimism over any immediate changes, the Rabbi is still among a large number of activists who are extremely optimistic about the direction of their movement.
“We have the intrigue of what’s holding Israel back from its own holy sites while Israelis are realigning themselves with the Temple Mount. People are pushing for it with new initiatives and talking about it at unprecedented levels. There is a change in the Israeli psyche, in Israeli society. It is becoming a part of the public discourse, which is a tremendous blessing and advancement that’s not going to be turned back.”