An Israeli court has overturned a ruling by a district court judge that sparked Palestinian outrage by questioning the legality of banning Jews from praying within Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied Jerusalem. Under the decades-old status quo, Israel only allows Jews to visit the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa on condition that they refrain from performing religious rites.
Three young Jewish men challenged the police decision to prevent them from entering the Old City for 15 days because they performed Jewish rites inside the compound. The Jerusalem Magistrates Court ruled on Sunday that their actions did not constitute a breach of security.
This led to protests from the Palestinian leadership, threats from Palestinian armed factions and a pledge from Israel that the status quo would be maintained. The state filed an appeal on Wednesday at the Supreme Court, which upheld the ban.
"The special sensitivity of the Temple Mount [sic] cannot be overstated," said Judge Einat Avman-Moller in her ruling, using the Jewish name for Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The judge added that the right to freedom of Jewish worship there "is not absolute, and should be superseded by other interests, among them the safeguarding of public order."
Nati Rom, the defendants' lawyer, said before the verdict, "It is strange and regrettable that, in the 21st century, in a Jewish and democratic country, the basic human rights of Jews would be so harmed."
The number of Jews who visit Al-Aqsa Mosque has risen, including during the month of Ramadan, which coincided this year with the Jewish Passover. Jordan, which has official custodianship over the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, has expressed concerns about this.
Tension has been exacerbated by the plans for a flag march by Jewish nationalists in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday to commemorate Israel's capture of the city in the 1967 Six Day War. It is an annual event that angers Palestinians who believe that the Old City and other parts of occupied East Jerusalem should be the capital of an independent state of Palestine.