Small Wall - Kotel HaKatan
Small Wall - Kotel HaKatanIsrael news photo

A three-year-old case of a policeman who attacked a young man blowing the Shofar in the middle of Rosh HaShanah services at the Small Wall - an extension of the Western Wall in the Old City - finally reached court Wednesday.

The man, Eliyahu K., together with other members of his prayer group, are suing the police for 10,000 shekels ($2,600) in damages. A person close to the case said that their attempts to reach a compromise with the police via the Department for Complaints Against Policemen were unsuccessful, and the trial has now begun in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court.

The incident, as first reported by Arutz-7, occurred on Rosh HaShanah of 5767 (September 2006), when police violently hauled Eliyahu off to the Old City police station in the middle of his prayers for sounding the Shofar (ritual ram's horn). A group of some 10 men and two women were gathered at the site for traditional early morning Rosh HaShanah prayers - which feature the blowing of the Shofar at several different times.

Police Try to Drag Away Prayer Leader

At one point in the service, Eliyahu, the 20-year-old prayer leader, blew the Shofar in the midst of his silent prayer (in accordance with Sephardic custom). Policemen entered, for the second time that morning, and tried to pull him away. However, Eliyahu was in the midst of reciting the Amidah - a long passage during which one must stand in one place without moving - and he therefore did not move.

The policemen informed their supervisors by radio that he was praying and refused to move, and reinforcements were soon sent - no fewer than 20 policemen, according to several witnesses. Twice they attempted to drag him out, and twice he got up and resumed his prayers, after which the policemen allowed him to complete his prayers before taking him out.

In the meanwhile, the other worshipers tried to prevent the policemen from taking Eliyahu away. In response, the policemen started swinging their clubs violently, witnesses said; no one was hospitalized, but "it was a big brawl," with many people being dragged around and beaten while wearing their prayer-shawls and Sabbath suits.

Eliyahu, accompanied by his fiancée, was taken by foot all the way around the Old City, past Mt. Zion and through Jaffa Gate, to the Kishle police station inside Jaffa Gate. He was finally released around shortly before noon, after being charged with attacking a policeman and disturbing the public order.

Witness: Police Beat Us

One witness related at the time, "It's not only that the police stopped him from blowing the shofar, but that they also beat us up very harshly. I was on my way to the Wall for prayers when I saw five to seven policemen going with Eliyahu and protecting him very closely. I walked after them, and then a few of his friends came, and then the violence started. We asked the policemen to return the Shofar, and instead, they started kicking us and punching us."

The worshipers said the police had apparently been called by an Arab woman who said the sound of the ram's horn disturbed her children.

A Jewish resident of the Old City told Arutz-7, "How ironic. The loud Arab weddings and nightly prayers by the muezzin [over a powerful loudspeaker] at 4:30 a.m. disturb our sleep every night." Similar complaints are heard from Jews living near Arab villages in Judea and Samaria.

The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, said at the time, "This is a very grave incident - both the police violence and the prevention of the Shofar blowing. It reminds us of the days of the British Mandate when Jews [had to make] super-human efforts to blow the shofar at the Western Wall.”

Small Wall's Sanctity

Rabbi Rabinovitch testified at the court session about the sanctity of the Small Wall, the northern-most section of the Temple Mount's Western Wall. It is considered to have extra sanctity, as it stands opposite the presumed spot of the Holy of Holies of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). The rabbi said that though the Western Wall plaza area is more active and central, the Small Wall is at least as holy. He noted that the police have not cooperated with his request to have it deemed an official holy site.

The Kotleinu (Our Wall) organization has been active to have the area officially recognized as a holy site. A Kotleinu call for the public to show up for the court hearing stated, “Not only is the welfare of those who pray at the Kotel Hakatan at stake here, but also the fate of those places held to be holy and designated for prayer and honor by the Jewish People. Your interest in this case can make a difference.”

Other witnesses at today's court hearing included some of the boys who participated in the prayer service and witnessed the police violence. The main witness, Eliyahu, was unavailable, as he is accompanying his wife in labor in a nearby hospital for the birth of their second child. At least one more court session will be scheduled to hear his testimony and that of the police.