Comptroller Temple Mount report stays behind closed doors

Schneller: It’s no secret that many archeological findings are being destroyed.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, JONAH MENDEL
August 4, 2010 03:10
3 minute read.
A view of the Temple Mount (Ariel Jerozolimski).

temple mount 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

A gag order is being maintained on a sensitive state comptroller’s report believed to blast the lack of Israeli oversight on the Temple Mount, but most of the report is expected to be cleared for publication before the Knesset reconvenes in mid-October, The Jerusalem Post was told Tuesday.

The report, which discusses Israel’s authority on the Temple Mount, including governmental oversight of excavations and construction on the site, is viewed as highly sensitive for diplomatic and security reasons, and the first Knesset debate on the report was held Tuesday behind closed doors.

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The report probes, among other bodies, the performance of the Jerusalem Municipality, the Antiquities Authority, and the Israel Police in enforcing laws and regulations pertaining to the site, as well as the roles of the attorney-general and respective prime ministers in confronting and shaping policy in the face of the challenges posed by the site in recent years.

MKs who read the report described it as “all-encompassing” and “very serious”, but noted that the report only concerns the performance of governmental bodies covered within the mandate of the State Comptroller’s Office. The report does not examine the activities of non-governmental bodies, except regarding official bodies’ responses to their actions.

“The report revealed many problems that cannot be accepted in a democratic state that tries to prevent – by law – the destruction of a cultural site that is significant, as a world cultural site and a Jewish one,” said MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who heads the State Control Committee subcommittee on security, foreign affairs and international trade relations, which was tasked with reviewing the report.

“My subcommittee is dealing with two aspects: [firstly] the findings themselves, in order to ensure that in each situation the international and Israeli laws will be upheld without relation to the other issues concerning the site.

“The second aspect is what parts of the report will be presented to the public, balancing the principle of the right of the public to know and oversee and the other considerations in the report itself.”

Schneller said that Tuesday’s hearing was the first of many, and that ultimately most of the report will be published and presented to the Knesset.

“We will direct most of our effort to publishing most of the report as quickly as possible,” he added. “It is not a secret that the Waqf is building on the Temple Mount, that works have been done, and that many archeological findings have been destroyed.”

But Schneller noted that “those who are potentially responsible are the authorities on the site, which is, in essence, the government of Israel.”

Almost two years ago, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss was asked by the State Control Committee to examine the enforcement of the Antiquities Law on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is dominated today by the al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

In 1981, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO declared the Old City, Jerusalem and its walls to be a world heritage site. In 1982, the Old City and its walls were declared an endangered site, and in 1999, Israel joined the UNESCO accords, making the preservation effort binding upon the Israeli government.

The most recent probes into preservation – or the lack thereof – on the site that is holy to both Islam and Judaism, were carried out under the auspices of UNESCO, following the organization’s 2003 resolution “to prepare a comprehensive plan of action to safeguard the cultural heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem.”

Five expert missions in the years 2005-2006 noted the impact of archeological excavations and deterioration of monuments, among other factors endangering the historic sites.

In 2007 a UNESCO technical mission was sent to examine the reconstruction work Israel was conducting on the Mughrabi ascent leading to the Temple Mount, which had collapsed after a snowstorm in 2004.

The ensuing report repudiated the Arab claims that the works would “destroy the last remains of the Mughrabi Quarter and remove the archaeological evidence of the Ayubid and Mamluk periods,” but reprimanded Israel for conducting the works to fortify the ascent without conducting a consultation process “with all concerned parties, in particular the authorities of the Waqf and of Jordan.”


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