July 29, 2001
Members of the “Committee to
Prevent Archaeological Destruction on the
Temple Mount” include A. B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz
and S. Yizhar, former justices Meir Shamgar and
Miriam Ben-Porat, as well as many archaeologists.
The committee constantly passes on reports about a continuing
destruction of antiquities on the mount. Some of the reports have been confirmed,
police have denied others, and some that police denied in the past have been
proved true subsequently.
The politicians – neither in the days of the Barak administration nor
in the current one, have taken no steps to halt waqf construction activity.
Most of this is done without permission and all of it without archaeological supervision.
Antiquities Authority archaeologists were first kept
away from the Temple Mount in September 1996 after the opening of the northern
entrance to the Hasmonean Tunnel by the Netanyahu government. For a few months
in 1999,the Barak government managed to get some supervision by the Antiquities
Authority back onto the mount, but that was halted in October 2000 when the
Intifada broke out.
Since last Rosh Hashana, the Temple Mount has been closed
to both Antiquities Authority people and indeed to anyone who is not Muslim,
except for the Israeli police, which continue to patrol the area at various
levels of intensity. It is not clear if the police are conducting ongoing
systematic surveillance of the underground construction work by the waqf
and the Israeli Islamic Movement. The only significant difference that came
following the election of the Sharon government is that the decision to prevent
Muslims from bringing additional construction material onto the mount is
generally being enforced.
The opposition to Israel’s policy of ignoring what is happening on the
mount with regard to the destruction of antiquities comes from both within
the establishment and from outside it. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein,
who in the past called the activity on the mount “a kick at the history of
the Jewish people,” sent some vociferous letters to former prime minister
Ehud Barak and has made his views known to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The Antiquities Authority occasionally protests about the construction
work. The former director general of the authority, Amir Drori, called the
work in the Solomon’s Stables area “an archaeological crime.” But the
positions taken by both Rubinstein and Drori have been rejected time and
The main worry at the political level is of a confrontation between the
security forces and thousands of Muslims, which would spread to far beyond
the Temple Mount – to Jerusalem, the territories and possibly to other Arab
states. But there are those in both the police and Shin Bet who are skeptical of those concerns.
Various petitions to the High Court, both by the public
committee and the various veteran Temple Mount organizations, have been rejected.
The court has made clear that the issue is the responsibility of the politicians
and it has no intention of intervening. The court usually refrains from getting
into the details of the controversy between the police and the Temple Mount
For the past two years no journalists have been allowed on the mount
except for those whom the waqf approves as sympathetic to the waqf’s cause.
Visits to the mount are nearly impossible and photography is strictly