Honenu to Jerusalem Police: Mt. Zion is a public site

Honenu Attorney Menashe Yado; Photo credit: Honenu

Monday, July 3, 2023, 11:52 The Jerusalem Police have been removing Jews praying in a public area adjacent to King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion because of a claim of ownership by the Greek Orthodox Church. Honenu Attorney Menashe Yado wrote a letter to the legal advisor of the Jerusalem District Police demanding that the Jerusalem Police stop removing Jews from the site as the area is officially zoned as a public site open to the general public.

In his letter, Attorney Yado underscored that the site has been used as a public area for many years: “Over the past few months, the Israel Police has been illegally removing members of the public from a public, open space on Mount Zion. The undersigned is writing on behalf of the Honenu organization in a justified demand to immediately and completely desist from this illegal practice. The public, open space, labelled on some maps as the “Greek Garden” is at the rear yard of Mount Zion, located to the southwest of King David’s Tomb. The area was planned and designated as an open, public site. The de facto status of the site has been public knowledge for many years and the public has a recognized proprietary right to use the site. Public access to the area has been allowed for many years, sometimes including Jewish prayer. On Shavuot and other Jewish holidays, tents are set up around King David’s Tomb, a custom going back many years. The current status of the site is not only de facto but also statutory according to the city zoning plan.”

Attorney Yado noted in his letter that several times during the past few months, at the request of the Greek Orthodox Church, the police detained a homeless man living at the site for trespassing. The Jerusalem Magistrates and District Courts released him every time due to the status of the area as a public site.

In his letter, Attorney Yado objected to the disregard of courts’ decisions by police: “Instead of upholding the status of the land as an open public site, the Israel Police is expelling members of the public from the site which is designated to serve the public, in acquiescence to demands from the [Greek Orthodox] Church that are not enforceable by law, as the Church is not the legal owner of the site, and is not supposed to have ownership of it. Prima facie, the illegal practice of the Israel Police does not stem from an error. The Israel Police is presumed to be familiar with trespassing laws, and therefore when they do not properly enforce the law, prima facie, this cannot be regarded as an innocent mistake. Several days ago, I arrived at the site for a different purpose, and it pained me to see police officers illegally removing three elderly Jewish women who came to maintain a long-standing custom of praying at the adjacent grove. The Israel Police are committing a serious offence by illegally removing the public from an open public site for the sake of the [Greek Orthodox] Church.”

In conclusion, Honenu Attorney Menashe Yado requested that the legal advisor of the Jerusalem District Police instruct the police to desist from removing Jews from the site: “It pains me to see that the Israel Police are removing Jews from an open, public area at which they have been praying and relaxing for decades. Their actions are contrary to court decisions on detentions at the site during the past months. The police are relying on a trespassing law that is not relevant to a public site, and acting in opposition to the clear intent of the current law that has not changed since the founding of the State of Israel. Therefore, I demand that the police completely cease the illegal and hurtful practice described above that deprives the public of an open, public site on Mount Zion. The police must defend the public’s proprietary right to the site.”

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