The treatment of important historic artifacts found on the Temple Mount is “a disgrace,” the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee head said Tuesday.
The committee was meeting on the issue of archaeology at the holy site at the request of MKs Orit Struk (Jewish Home), Moshe Feiglin (Likud) and Hilik Bar (Labor).
The MKs expressed concern over two issues in particular: poor storage of ancient wooden wall segments believed to date back to the time of the First Temple, and the heap of rubble and antiquities at the eastern part of the Temple Mount. The rubble, with its valuable historic artifacts, has been sitting on the mount for years, they noted, and has been the subject of Supreme Court rulings.
The Temple Mount is controlled by the Muslim Waqf. The Waqf has been accused of waging a deliberate campaign to destroy Jewish history at the site, as well as to harass Jewish visitors in an attempt to make them feel uncomfortable and avoid visiting.
Feiglin opened by emphasizing the historic, emotional and archaeological importance of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site and the previous site of the First Temple and Second Temple.
“Throw a stone anywhere in Jerusalem and you’ll hit an archaeological site. But the Temple Mount is the mother of them all, the foundation of our existence,” he said. “Our roots are buried there.”
Feiglin later suggested that the neglect of valuable historic artifacts at the holy site stems primarily from an emotional disconnect from the site, which in turn is caused by a lack of physical access due to security concerns.
MK Struk said that as a resident of Hevron, another city which dates back to Bible times, she knows that one cannot so much as put a nail in the wall of an archaeological site without a discussion of the impact to the site. She expressed surprised that on the Temple Mount, that would not be the case.
Police: situation better than ever
The head of the Jerusalem branch of the Antiquities Authority, Dr. Yuval Baruch, argued that the situation on the Temple Mount today is much better than it was in the past. “Every request to visit and supervise on the Temple Mount is answered in the positive,” he claimed.
However, he said, the Antiquities Authority is not in charge of managing the Temple Mount, and “it is possible that things are being done on the Temple Mount without our knowledge.”
Police commander Avi Biton agreed. Police authorize the Antiquities Authority to visit every part of the Temple Mount, he said.
Activists: 'It's a disgrace'
Attorneys Yisrael Kaspi and Aryeh Livneh were in the meeting as representatives of the Public Committee to Prevent Destruction of Antiquities. While the two agreed with Baruch and Biton that the situation on the Temple Mount is better than it has been for years, they said there is still much room for improvement.
“The current treatment of the remnants of our past is a disgrace to us all,” they declared.
They, along with MKs Feiglin and Struk, expressed frustration over the secrecy surrounding a State Comptroller report on the issue, and accused the government of keeping the report secret in order to avoid revealing the extent of antiquities demolition, and the extent to which Israel lacks authority on the Temple Mount.
MK David Tsur (Hatnua), who chaired the meeting, concluded by saying that the committee will continue to follow happenings on the Temple Mount. In fact, he noted, the committee is scheduled to visit the Temple Mount in the near future.
Tsur said the committee would work to get the Prime Minister and other ministers involved in the issue of proper treatment of antiquities at the site.