Amicus Curiae: Panhandling at the Western Wall
ACRI filed a request in the Jerusalem Magistrate Court to join proceedings as an amicus curiae in the criminal case against a man arrested for panhandling at the Western Wall Plaza.
In 1981, the Ministry of Religious Services enacted the Regulations of Jewish Holy Sites. Authority to pass such regulations was granted to the Ministry via the Law of Holy Sites. The regulations prohibit a number of acts, including panhandling at a holy site. Violating this prohibition is a criminal offence that carries a punishment of up to half a year in prison.
ACRI’s primary claim is that the regulation prohibiting panhandling at the Western Wall is unconstitutional, as it infringes on the constitutional rights of living in dignity, freedom of occupation, and freedom of expression. While regulations may infringe upon constitutional rights, there must be express authority for such granted in the law. While the law does give general authorization to act to preserve the holy places, and therefore the Minister has the authority to determine various regulations regarding the conduct of the holy place, the law does not not specifically authorize the Minister to determine criminal offenses.
Additionally, the Knesset has determined that panhandling is only a crime when accompanied by harassment. In contrast, this secondary legislation has categorized panhandling, even without harassment, as a crime, simply because it was done at a holy site. Furthermore, punishment for panhandling at a holy site is more severe than that of panhandling and harassment as classified in the Penal Code (1 month vs. 6 months). ACRI claims that the appointee over holy sites has other, simple, administrative tools with which to deal with the issue of panhandling without criminalizing the act and turning the poor from beggars to criminals.
Our secondary claim is that even if the crime is constitutional, it should only be enforced in extreme cases, especially when there is no harassment, as it is a crime of poverty. Prosecution should consider a range of issues, including the fact that the accused is a poor person and panhandling is one of the most basic methods for people in distress to survive and earn a living. In the framework of this discretion, we must also consider the fact that criminal law is not the appropriate way to deal with welfare problems that are based in poverty and distress. Further, criminalizing the behavior of poor people in public spaces does not serve public interest and only exacerbates the individual’s crisis as it makes rehabilitation much harder.
Menachem Shtauber is representing the accused. In November 2017 the Jerusalem Magistrate court found the accused guilty after rejecting the preliminary arguments made by ACRI and the accused. An appeal of this verdict was submitted to the Jerusalem District court in Jerusalem.
Criminal Process 28268-03-16 State of Israel vs. A.B.M; Appeal on Criminal Case 8182/18 A.M. vs. State of Israel
Request to join proceedings as an “amicus curiae” (friend of the court). Attorney: Gil Gan-Mor.
Amicus Curiae request, January 2017 (HEBREW)
ACRI position, May 2018
ACRI position, December 2018
Press Release: Magistrate Court: It’s permissible to imprison beggars at the Western Wall, November, 2017
Links: Roi Yanovsky, father of three, put on trial- for panhandling at the Western Wall, 29.1.2017, ynet