Knesset Interior Committee on Tuesday held a heated meeting with concerned MKs,
representatives from the Antiquities Authority and police to discuss
accountability and oversight of archeological relics allegedly being illegally
removed from the Temple Mount.
According to MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud
Beytenu) – an outspoken advocate for equal Jewish prayer rights at the holy site
– the Wakf Muslim religious trust, which controls the area, is responsible for
the purported illegal activity.
“For more than 15 years I have gone to
the Temple Mount at least once a month, and I see that slowly but surely relics
are being removed,” he said Tuesday. “I see it with my own eyes.”
accused the Wakf of spearheading an ongoing campaign to remove antiquities –
including wooden pillars and other remnants from the First and Second Temples –
in an attempt to erase Jewish history from the area.
“No one else has an
interest in removing these artifacts,” he said. “When I first started going up,
there were big piles of wooden pillars on the south-end section by the Aksa
Mosque – wood from the time of King Solomon! And every month I have seen the
pile getting smaller and smaller.”
MK David Tzur (Hatnua) led the meeting
in committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu)’s absence.
discussion was initiated by MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi), Feiglin and MK Hilik
Bar (Labor) to address their joint concerns over the alleged
Although Cmdr. Avi Biton of the Israel Police claimed
supervision of the Temple Mount is “better than ever,” committee members called
into question the Antiquities Authority’s purported lax oversight of the holy
While Dr. Yuval Baruch, the Jerusalem regional director of the
Antiquities Authority, conceded that some relics may have been displaced without
the organization’s knowledge, he claimed that the authority is not, in fact,
responsible for management of the Temple Mount.
“Any request for action
on the Mount is ultimately the responsibility of the Ministerial Committee for
Holy Places,” he said.
Indeed, according to the Antiquities Authority’s
website, the organization is not directly responsible for archeological
activities at locations legally defined as “holy sites,” including the Temple
“Any changes [e.g., excavation, construction, preservation of
ancient walls, etc.] require approval of the Ministerial Committee for Holy
Places, which consists of the ministers of justice, education and religious
affairs,” it stated.
“The Antiquities Authority is responsible for the
integrity of these holy sites.”
Still, Struck pointedly asked how such an
ongoing lack of accountability and “lawlessness” could remain unchecked at
Judaism’s most sacred location.
“We cannot abandon even the wooden beams
of [the Temple],” the MK said.
While Feiglin claimed he understood the
complexity given the numerous parties involved, he emphasized that he does “not
accept the situation.”
“It’s amazing that a nation with 3,000 years of
history can allow this to happen,” he said.
“No normal nation would let
something like this take place,” Feiglin continued, adding that Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu must be held accountable for the ongoing lack of appropriate
To that end, the committee agreed to send a formal inquiry of
the matter to the Prime Minister’s Office, to be reviewed upon its
Asked for comment regarding Feiglin’s accusations against the
Wakf’s alleged removal of Jewish artifacts, Meretz councilman Dr. Meir Margalit,
who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, said he was dubious of the MK’s
“I don’t believe Feiglin’s comments,” said Margalit by phone
Tuesday. “Of course I am against such actions, just as I am against Elad [the Ir
David Foundation] removing all kinds of artifacts that belong to the Christian
and Muslim periods in the City of David.”
Margalit said regardless of
Feiglin’s assertions, political ideology must be entirely removed from all
archeological endeavors in the capital.
“I think it is very urgent to
create a committee of neutral academics and archeologists from different
countries and bring them to the city to check what is going on in both places
and prepare a report,” he said.
The Interior Committee said it will
reconvene after the Prime Minister’s Office completes its requested inquiry.