Temple Mount: How police discriminate against Jews

Hidden camera expose shows how police, Waqf guards aggressively discriminate against religious Jews on the Temple Mount.

Tags: Temple Mount
Ari Soffer ,

Jewish visitors leave the Temp[le Mount under police escort
Jewish visitors leave the Temp[le Mount under police escort
Hadas Parush/Flash 90

A hidden camera expose by Israel's Channel Two has provided a graphic illustration of the discrimination faced by religious Jews visiting the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site.

Under the so-called "status quo" between Israel and Muslim groups - including the Jordanian government-run Waqf which administers the site - Jews are allowed to visit but not pray, despite the Temple Mount's supreme status in Judaism.

Jewish Temple Mount groups have frequently complained about the discriminatory regulations - and won several times in court - but police continue to place ever greater restrictions on Jewish groups, circumventing court rulings by citing unspecified "security concerns."

To ensure they keep to the rules, Jewish groups are followed by a phalanx of Israeli police and Waqf guard. Any suspected infringements will result in arrest and potentially an open-ended ban on revisiting.

But the expose demonstrates how religious Jews specifically are singled out for what harsh treatment, while secular Jews are allowed to wander freely. 

Channel Two journalist Yair Sherki (brother of terror victim Shalom Sherki) and his team experienced the double-standard firsthand, with crew member "Yonatan" ascending the Mount twice - once dressed as a secular Israeli, and a second time as a religious Jew.

While "secular" Yonatan was explicitly told he could go wherever he wanted, and not warned of any restrictions whatsoever, his "religious" alter ego was subjected to a prolonged haranguing by police, who recognize him from his earlier visit and appear angry that a religious Jew managed to sneak in unnoticed.

At the entrance to the Mount on his first visit, a policeman explicitly tells him "even though you're a Jew, to me you're a tourist for all intents and purposes.

"You don't wear a kippa (skullcap), you're not haredi," the guard continues, apparently referring to religious Jews in general (relatively few haredim visit the Temple Mount).

Yonatan then innocently asks where he is allowed to go, and is told in response "you can go wherever you want."

But when he returns donning a large kippa, tzitzit and white shirt, the treatment he receives is starkly different.

Pulled aside by police, Yonatan is then given a long list of things he is forbidden from doing, familiar to regular Jewish visitors, including no praying and only sticking to a very specific path. Not that he had the option of going anywhere else; Yonatan and his companion were shadowed closely by police and Waqf guards, and warned against going anywhere without a police escort.

Could it perhaps have been a one-off? Again, regular visitors say this is standard practice, with visibly-Jewish visitors profiled and pulled aside, forced to wait for prolonged periods and often subjected to humiliating body checks to ensure they aren't carrying any "forbidden items" - like prayer books.

Sherki then found this out for himself. The visibly-religious journalist stood in the line for "regular" (i.e. non-Jewish) visitors, but was quickly pulled aside by police who noticed his peyot (sidecurls) and kippa.

When police tell him he has to wait for an unspecified time before being permitted to enter the Temple Mount complex, he asks why they were treating him differently from the other visitors; "What if I wasn't wearing a kippa?" he challenges.

The response: "Stop asking irrelevant questions."

When he is then asked to submit for a full body-search, he asked the police officers whether all visitors were treated similarly.

"Only the haredim," he is told.

When he finally makes it up to the Mount he too is shadowed closely by police and Waqf guards - and informed of one of the more bizarre rules Jewish visitors are subjected to: no standing still or sitting down.

"We'll tell you where you're permitted to stand," an officer says.

At one point he is informed that the measures are for his own safety - claims activists are quick to dismiss, noting that if there is indeed a danger from Muslim extremists it is them who should be restricted from visiting the Mount, not their intended victims.

"This expose brings to light the horrendous reality of what a visit to our people's holiest site entails for a Jew who is outwardly 'observant,'" said Temple Institute International Director Rabbi Chaim Richman. "The overt discrimination against religious Jews that is daily employed by the Israel Police on the Temple Mount would be decried as anti-Semitism by the State of Israel itself, would it be taking place anywhere else in the world!"

"The 'status quo' which forbids Jewish prayer at our holy site is an illegal, anti-democratic and racist example of Israel's acquiescence to Islamic racist supremacy, and is a stain on our nation," he added. "The police's audacious claim that there is no distinction made in the treatment of those who wear a kippa is a bold-faced lie, and the claim that these measures are for the protection and good of the religious visitors is an even greater shame-faced lie."

Richman called on Jews to resist attempts to restrict Jewish visits by ascending the Temple Mount more regularly.

"The presence of observant Jews on the Temple Mount is a problem for the Waqf, and the Israel Police is complicit and empowers this foreign body within the capital of the sovereign state of Israel by its treatment of observant Jewish visitors to the Mount, so reminiscent of the Dark Ages," he said. "Whoever thinks that the 'Temple Mount is in our hands' is delusional.

"We call upon Jews to ascend in purity and with proper halachic guidance to the Temple Mount and to exercise their right to pray openly at the site from where the Divine Presence never departed, the location of the Holy Temple." 

In response to the report, the Israel Police released a statement insisting that foreign tourists and Jewish visitors are treated equally, and that the police "enforce the law equally, regardless of religion, race or gender."