Temple mount work 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Knesset State Control Committee on Monday decided to ask the State Comptroller's Office to investigate procedures for allowing the Wakf Islamic trust to excavate on the Temple Mount, amid claims by archeologists that the laying of electric cables there in August endangered ancient artifacts.
The new cables were placed over the now-outdated ones installed 50 years ago.
The project, which included the use of a tractor to dig a 500- meter trench, was authorized by the Antiquities Authority.
The project aroused the wrath of archeologists belonging to the Committee against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.
The committee was established in 2000, one year after the Wakf dug a huge hole for the construction of a new mosque known as Solomon's Stables, and dumped 12,000 tons of unsifted earth containing tens of thousands of archeological artifacts outside the Old City walls.
The committee accused the Antiquities Authority and its director-general, Shmuel Dorfman, of violating government regulations required for granting permission to the Wakf to carry out work that might harm archeological artifacts.
Dorfman acknowledged that he had not asked for permission from a ministerial committee established to oversee Temple Mount excavations, as required by the regulations. However, he and the Jerusalem District architect, Yuval Baruch, told the panel, "There was no damage to the remains of buildings or artifacts." Dorfman also said he had been more lenient regarding the terms of the excavation because it was the only way he could be sure the authority would be able to supervise the excavation.
Dorfman strongly denied allegations by a member of the archeologists' committee, Yisrael Caspi, that he had been ordered by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to give the Wakf permission to dig the trench.
"The prime minister did not speak to me," he told the State Control Committee. "No one spoke to me and no one forced me to agree."
MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party) asked why Dorfman had agreed to let the Wakf use a tractor on such a sensitive archeological site. Dorfman replied that the Wakf wanted to install the new cables before Ramadan. "They were under time pressure," he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Committee against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, Gabriel Barkai said, "The use of a bulldozer [as he called the tractor,] was like putting an elephant in a china shop. In such a sensitive spot, you cannot allow workers to use bulldozers. They should have dug by hand using special brushes and recorded every find scrupulously. I believe that serious damage was caused the moment they removed the earth, which was saturated with archeological findings."
Another prominent archeologist sharply disagreed with Barkai. "There were no archeological findings in the ground," Meir Ben-Dov told the committee. "They dug a total of 50 cm. deep and all of it was fill-in from the earlier infrastructure that had been installed."