The Temple Mount and the Western Wall in Israeli Law
Publication Year: 2001
The legal status of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall derives primarily from the status of the area in which they are located: the Old City in East Jerusalem (as is well-known, the future political status of this part of the city is the most difficult issue to be solved in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians). This paper shall first discuss the legal status of East Jerusalem, then various issues comprising the legal status of the Holy Places, the most important among them being the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
The Status of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall
The Holy Places in Eretz Israel in general, and the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in particular, have an important status in Israeli law. These places are granted protection by special laws; different actions in them are stipulated upon receiving permits from government ministers; conflicts over them may be non-justiciable by lack of jurisdiction; some acts carried out in them are criminal offenses; more severe punishment may be meted for criminal offenses in Holy Places than for such offenses elsewhere; the Holy Places are exempt from various taxes.
This special status is the result of the history of the problem of the Holy Places: conflicts over rights in them among the three great religions (or among the Christian denominations), and of the international political implications to almost every event occurring in them — especially in places holy to more than one religion, as the Temple Mount.
A Holy Place?
Despite the special judicial status of the Holy Places and the great need for a clear judicial definition for identifying such places, there is no definition in Israeli law for the term Holy Place, nor a list of the Holy Places granted this special status. The Western Wall was defined as a Holy Place in the Regulations for the Preservation of Holy Places to the Jews, 1981. Yet the Temple Mount was never so defined by law, although there is no controversy over its being a most Holy Place for all three great religions.
In the author’s opinion, as this is a religious term, a place should be defined as a Holy Place only when it is regarded as such by the relevant religion. Considering the great importance of the status of Holy Places in Israeli law, it would be appropriate to limit the use of the term only to a living Holy Place, i.e. to a place used today for religious worship by the relevant religion.