By Nadav Shragai - Ha'aretz 27 June 2000
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Islamic waqf, or religious trust, accused
the state of Israel of crimes against archaeology and against Islam in
Jerusalem. Under the influence of Islamic religious leaders and with the
backing of Arab states, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization), decided to stop financial aid to Israel. ICOMOS, one
of the advisory bodies of UNESCO, even termed the Old City of Jerusalem
"an endangered cultural asset and historic site. "The most common
Islamic libel claimed that through archaeological digs around the Temple
Mount, Israel was trying to undermine the foundations of the mosques so that
they would collapse. The fact that a sizeable portion of the archaeological
finds happened to relate to the Muslim period of rule over Jerusalem made no
real impression on the Islamic religious authorities.
But international organizations - lovers of science and antiquities, all -
are now failing to display even a small fraction of the holy rage roused by
the onetime Israeli digs, as today Muslims continue to perpetuate
destruction on Temple Mount land. No explanation, no report, no supervision.
Complete silence. The only noise is that made by the bulldozer and the
earthworks, which are arousing more questions every day.
The behavior of the waqf is not surprising. Its leaders believe that Jews
have no connection to the place, and the two Temples that stood there are a
wild invention. While changing the face of the Mount and demonstrating
ownership of it, the waqf is showing willingness to harm not only the Jewish
roots buried beneath it, but the roots from the Christian and Muslim periods
What is extremely surprising is the behavior of the Israeli government. This
is not a question of realizing the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount
- which is likely, according to security officials, to bring about a
religious war - but a question of enforcing the laws relating to planning,
construction and antiquities at a holy site. Such quiet enforcement, even if
sometimes only partial, was carried out on the Mount from 1967 to 1996.
Nobody claimed then that there was a risk of danger to public security. This
is a new claim, not backed by all security officials, and it seems that in
this case, someone is taking the name of security in vain. Jerusalem Affairs
Minister Haim Ramon is correct that preparing the mosque at Solomon's
Stables and using the ancient Al Aqsa mosque as an additional prayer area -
which he describes as the breaking points - took place during the Likud
government. This shows a terrible lack of seriousness on the part of former
prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the great destruction of antiquities,
and the continuing damage being done to them today, are all the
responsibility of the present government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak. This
can be changed, but first the people from the Antiquities Authority have to
be released from their bonds. They must be allowed to give interviews freely
and explain what's going on. These are not state secrets. Permanent
supervisors have to be sent to the Temple Mount. They don't have to disguise
themselves as Arabs in order to be there. There is also no law forbidding
the use of a camera there. In this matter, the waqf and the police impose
scandalous restrictions on the media and archaeologists. The definition of
"completion of work for building an entrance to Solomon's Stables"
is also too broad. An area 200 meters long, to the north of Solomon's
Stables, cannot be paved, and even perhaps roofed, under the claim that this
is only "completion." Even a cover-up has a limit. The red lines
have to be clear to the waqf, and not only to Ramon.
Transparency will be very good for the situation on the Temple Mount. The
lack of clarity and the secrecy have only helped the waqf mock us again and
again. The "rain shelter" that the waqf wanted to erect in
Solomon's Stables to protect worshipers has become one of the biggest
mosques in the Middle East. The "emergency exit" that the waqf
wanted to plan for the mosque that was first presented as a
"shelter" has become a monumental entrance gate - which the
Antiquities Authority has defined as an archaeological crime.
The government authorities' stubborn refusal to accept the committee's
demand that they prevent the destruction of antiquities and reveal waqf
plans for the Temple Mount is likely in coming years to create further
megalomania, and more seriously damage the antiquities.