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(photo credit: Courtesy)
On Sunday, the Committee to Prevent the Destruction of Temple Mount Antiquities (CPDTMA) petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop the Wakf, the Muslim religious trust to which Israel has delegated substantial control over the Temple Mount, from using tractors to dig a deep, half-kilometer long trench into the most sensitive archeological, religious and historical site in Israel. Today, we hope the court will issue an immediate injunction to stop this travesty.
The Wakf, which openly denies that the First and Second Temples stood on the Temple Mount or that there is any Jewish connection to the area, has a long record of large construction projects that completely disregard basic imperatives of archeological preservation. In 1999-2001, when a huge cavity was dug in the Mount's support structure to expand a mosque, hundreds of tons of antiquities-filled dirt were removed with heavy equipment and summarily dumped by the truckload.
Israeli archeologists Gabi Barkai and Tzachi Zweig subsequently conducted a "dig" of this landfill, and found hundreds of significant artifacts, such as coins and seals, from First and Second Temple times and other historical periods.
These finds disprove the claims that the dirt being removed can be regarded as insignificant. In any case, it is absurd that digging for any road, building or bridge anywhere in Israel, never mind in Jerusalem, and let alone on the Temple Mount, is potentially subject to close archeological supervision, while these activities are not. Indeed, perhaps even more scandalously, the digging in this case is being observed by representatives of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
The High Court petition not only names the government and assorted relevant ministries, but the IAA itself, which the CPDTMA accuses of granting effective approval to the ongoing destruction. The CPDTMA claims that the police have told it that they will stop the tractors from operating the moment the IAA either requests them to do so or is not present to "supervise" the digging.
In its defense, the IAA claims that it has succeeded in obtaining Wakf permission for the presence of its supervisors, and that the construction plans are also the product of cooperation between the Wakf and the IAA. Yet this is more an admission of complicity than an acceptable explanation.
It is obvious what is going on here: an underlying threat or fear of violence is causing the Antiquities Authority, police, and government to fail to enforce minimal preservation standards, and for these authorities to be complicit in the rampant violation of laws they are meant to enforce. This is unacceptable, but it does not end there.
The Committee to Prevent the Destruction of Temple Mount Antiquities has also requested court intervention in eliminating unreasonable restrictions on visits to the Temple Mount. Today Jews are only allowed to enter the area about four hours each day. Further, the police continue to arbitrarily prevent television crews and even radio correspondents from reporting from the Mount.
As a newspaper, The Jerusalem Post has signed on to the CPDTMA's court petition to remove the current draconian restrictions on press coverage of the Temple Mount. Among those recently denied access were CNN, Channel 1 and Israel Radio.
The police cannot point to any legal basis for these press restrictions, and we suspect that the High Court, if it considers the matter as it should, will find none. If some legal fig leaf is presented, the court should overturn it as an egregious violation of freedom of the press.
That Muslim authorities have been given a great degree of authority over the Temple Mount is an important manifestation of our national commitment to freedom of religion. Such freedom, however, must not include the right to trample other principles, such as the illegality of violence, the need to preserve an archeological heritage of great significance to Judaism, Islam and Christianity and to multiple scientific disciplines, and the imperative to safeguard freedom of the press.
The Temple Mount, moreover, is not "just" an archeological site. It is the place that Jews have literally turned to, three times a day, for more than 2,000 years. It is the Zion to which the Jewish people have returned. For a Jewish state to neglect its national and international responsibility to protect this place is beyond embarrassing; it reflects a profound absence of self-respect and a failure to fathom a basic requirement for our existence in this land.
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