Last Thursday, a petition was filed with the Supreme Court against the Antiquities Authority, which approved the construction of the prayer platform at the Robinson Arch Archaeological Site near the Western Wall.
The petition was submitted on behalf of Prof. Dan Bahat, represented by Attorneys Amnon Lorch, Aner Hefetz, Gitit Ramot-Adler and Chani Rotstein-Cohen of Yigal Arnon & Partners.
Prof. Bahat, a former Jerusalem district archaeologist and winner of the Jerusalem Prize for Archaeology, warns that the prayer platform that was erected at the Robinson Arch Archaeological site adjacent to the Western Wall is damaging the archaeological findings there that serve as a window into Jewish history.
Bahat demands that the platform plan be canceled immediately. In the petition, Bahat accuses the Israel Antiquities Authority, which in the past had objected to turning the site into a place of worship, of submission to pressure and political considerations. "The status of the IAA is as an independent authority disconnected from the government, a gatekeeper whose role is to stand as a buffer between political, public or other considerations, and archaeological-scientific-professional issues. Despite this, the Authority made a highly unreasonable decision based on external political interests, while ignoring professional considerations," Bahat said.
Robinson Arch Compound is an archeological garden, a legally-mandated antiquities site, located at the foot of one of the important entrance gates to the Temple Mount and built during the Second Temple period. It extends around the foundations of the gate, the merchants' shops next to them, and the mikvahs, among the most impressive in the world, once intended for pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem during festivals.
Since news of the intention to prepare a prayer plaza at Robinson’s Arch, the archaeological community has been in a rage, strongly opposing the move. The present petition is the culmination of the archaeologists' struggle that has been going on for years against the platform, established as a wound in the heart of the impressive archaeological site. "Four rounds of chipping away at the site have turned it from a magnificent place to one where the ruins are trampled under plates and iron ... There is no doubt what the end of the site will be after the huge works planned and approved, since in the end - even with the best of intentions - it will be destroyed definitively and completely, and its very exposure will be will be an eternal disgrace," the petition states.
Bahat slammed the Antiquities Authority, which he claimed acted without authority and refrained from requesting the convening of a ministerial committee, which is required by the Antiquities Law to give preliminary approval for the execution of works at the site.
According to him, the Antiquities Authority surrendered to the political echelon's dictates in complete contradiction to the law and administrative rules, and acted contrary to planning and building laws. In the petition, Bahat points out the problematic nature of the various tenders and the temporary exemptions granted over the years regarding construction at the Robinson Arch site, raising concerns regarding their propriety and cleanliness from foreign interests.
The petition of the archaeologists adds to the storm surrounding the discussion of the fate of the Western Wall, and presents another angle on the grave consequences of changing the status quo in the holiest place for Jews.
To see the full petition in Hebrew, click here.