UNESCO report exposes Dome of Rock renovation

UN body condemns Israel for skipping meeting on Mugrahbi Bridge plans; Israel denies knowledge of meeting, blames Jordan.

Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount 390 (photo credit: Ilan Evyatar)
Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount 390
(photo credit: Ilan Evyatar)
Israelis got a rare glimpse of the planned renovations on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, in a Jordanian report given to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The report was issued ahead of a UNESCO conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, which starts on June 24.
UNESCO characterizes Jerusalem as a separate entity administered by both Israel and Jordan. The Wakf Muslim religious trust, a body under the auspices of the Jordanian government, retains administrative control over the city’s Muslim holy sites while Israel runs everything else.
Because the Temple Mount is administered by the wakf, it is difficult to discern exactly what work is being conducted. Both Jordan and Israel submitted plans and ongoing work in the Old City ahead of the St. Petersburg conference.
According to Jordanian authorities, workers are restoring the plastering and mosaics inside the Dome of the Rock, laying lead sheet over the roof of the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, renovating the Al-Marwani mosque, and renovating the Khanatanyah School and library below the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The report also mentioned the creation of the Center for the Restoration of Islamic Manuscripts of the Haram al-Sharif, which was funded with $1.2 million from Norway. Saudi Arabia provided $1.3m. in funding for the “safeguarding, refurbishment and revitalization” of the Islamic Museum of Haram al-Sharif and its Collection.
Haram al-Sharif is Arabic for Noble Sanctuary, which is how Muslims refer to the Temple Mount.
The UNESCO report also examined Israeli proposals for the Old City, including renovation work on many of its gates, construction planned for the Western Wall Plaza and an underground parking garage in the Jewish Quarter. The report slammed Israel for skipping a meeting with Jordanians on April 18 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris to discuss a future plan for the Mugrabi Bridge, which leads from the Western Wall Plaza up to the Temple Mount. According to the report, Jordan sent three experts associated with the Wakf while Israel refused to attend.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was unaware that any meeting had taken place and blamed Jordan for reneging on a memorandum of understanding at the last moment in October 2011 after an Israeli representative traveled to Amman.
“We’re talking to them, we’re going to deal with this in coordination with UNESCO. This was our position from the beginning,” Palmor said. “It’s the Jordanians who don’t want to work with us. Everything we’ve done was in full transparency and in full coordination with UNESCO.”
Repeated phone calls to the Wakf in Jerusalem went unanswered.
The UNESCO report also expressed apprehension about the reconstruction of the Tiferet Israel synagogue, located near the Western Wall, which it claimed could rekindle wide-spread rioting ignited by the rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in March 2010. Stoked by incitement that the Hurva rededication was an attempt to destroy the Dome of the Rock, Palestinians called for a “day of rage” and rioted across east Jerusalem. Sixty people were arrested. More than 100 protesters were injured, as were 15 policemen.
Elad Kandl, a former director of projects in the Old City at the Jerusalem Development Authority, said he was unaware of any plans to renovate the Tiferet Israel synagogue, which was built between 1882-1892 and destroyed by the Arab Legion in 1948.
Palmor said that he, too, was unfamiliar with the plan and that UNESCO should not cite riots as a reason to stop construction or conservation of important historical sites.
“Just because extremists threaten violence every time something displeases them doesn’t mean UNESCO or anyone else should align themselves with this,” he said.
“Extremists should not be allowed veto rights on reconstruction in Jerusalem.”
From June 24 to July 6, UNESCO is holding the 36th session of the Convention Concerning Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage to discuss heritage sites that are considered “in danger.”
The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls, which includes the Temple Mount and the area around the Old City, has been on the organization’s list of World Heritage Sites that are in danger since 1982, just a year after it was inaugurated as a World Heritage Site.
In multiple reports over the past three decades, UNESCO has highlighted a lack of planning, government and management, as well as archaeological excavations that are at risk of destroying the “outstanding universal value” of the area.
There are 788 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 35 of which are on the danger list.