By Etgar Lefkovits
(JPFS) At Israel’s request, the United Nations
Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) is sending a special envoy to Jerusalem
to investigate the reports of Islamic Wakf construction work on the Temple Mount, a UNESCO official
confirmed this week.
The envoy, Prof Oleg Grabar of the Institute
for Advanced Studies at Princeton University, said
he expects to make the trip the second week in May,
in light of the Israeli government’s acceptance of the
He said that he will submit his report to UNESCO
by May 20.
The purpose of the mission “is to find out how
things happen, and what can be done to prevent
unsatisfactory things from happening,” Grabar said
adding that it “will not be a police inspection.”
The assistant director-general for cultural affairs
at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Mounir
Bouchenaki, said that he received an official request
10 days ago from the Israeli Ambassador to UNESCO,
Aryeh Gabai, to send an envoy to Jerusalem.
Grabar lived in Jerusalem for two years in the
1960s as director ofthe Albright Institute, and is the
author of two books on Jerusalem. Last in Israel on
a-private visit in May, Grabar said that the problem
at the Temple Mount stems from the fact that “there
is no authority to decide who can do what ‘ ”
“We are well aware that all that goes on in
Jerusalem’s historic Old City is of tremendous impoortance to world heritage,” Bouchenaki said.
For years, UNESCO has been sending envoys
to Jerusalem to report on the status of archaeological excavations there, reports which were often highly
critical of digs Israel conducted in a city which the
UN body does not consider to be under Israeli sovereignty.
The last such UNESCO mission was in 1998,
and ended in rancor after the envoy at the time,
Sorbonne Prof Leon Pressouyre, came and left
Jerusalem without meeting any Israeli officials.
Grabar conceded that this mission was “very badly
Asked how one could make a balanced report
without such meetings, Bouchenaki said that the
French professor did have informal contacts with Israeli professors and scholars.
“You have to understand the Jerusalem file is
very difficult and very complicated. Every word written here is studied and reviewed,” he said.
Immediately after the Pressouyre visit, Israel
asked the director-general of UNESCO to send someone else on any future missions.
Since the visit, Israelis and Palestinians have
also been opposed to any further missions, for what
Bouchenaki called “internal reasons.”
Indeed, at that very time the future of the site
was being discussed in the most far ranging negotiations ever between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, talks that collapsed last summer at Camp
This time, Bouchenaki promised, the envoy will
meet with both Israeli and Palestinians officials. To
this end, the UNESCO officials are now organizing a
meeting between Grabar and the Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors to Paris.
Grabar said that he does not have a list of the
Israeli officials he will be meeting with, and could not
say if they will include archaeologists.
The idea of UNESCO involvement was first
raised, publicly in Jerusalem last month at a meeting
of the Knesset Educational Committee which dealt
with the reports of the Wakfs ongoink, construction
work on the Temple Mount.
Confirming what archaeologists have been warning for months now, the head of the Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, said at the meeting that,
without archaeological supervision, the Wakf was
causing “unequivocal damage” at Judaism’s holiest