Archaeologists decry Wakf 'renovation'

Warn that Islamic Trust plan to expand recently-created mosque on Temple Mnt.

solomaons stables 298  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
solomaons stables 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a renewed dispute, a group of Israeli archaeologists has condemned the Wakf's planned renovation work of an ancient tower adjacent to the Temple Mount, warning that such a move is part of a long-running plan by the Islamic Trust to expand a recently-created mosque at the Jerusalem holy site. The non-partisan 'Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount,' which has been leading the public campaign against Wakf construction at the site has sent a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Director of the Antiquities Authority Shuka Dorfman lambasting the proposed renovation work on the historic structure. The site in question, known as Hatuniyah, lies adjacent to the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount just outside the ancient compound, and has served in the past as a tower approach to the Temple Mount by way of the Double Gate. "As part of our follow-up on Wakf activities over the last years, it has become clear that these projects are part of an overall Wakf plan to turn the whole compound into one exclusive Muslim site...and we have firm basis to suppose that the Wakf's aim this time as well is to take over this structure as well and incorporate it into the mosque at the site," the November 7 letter read. According to decades-old regulations in place at the Jerusalem holy site, Israel is in charge of overall security at the compound, while the Islamic Trust or Wakf are charged with day-to-day maintenance at the site. The archaeologists' letter, which was made public on Wednesday, states that the prime minister's office and or the Antiquities Authority has approved or is planning to approve the Wakf's renovation plan. The Prime Minister's Office had no immediate comment Wednesday. Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Osnat Guez said Wednesday that she was not aware of any work at the site, noting that in any case the authority does not issue permits for repair work or construction at the site. Wakf director Adnan Husseini said Wednesday that the work was part of "ongoing renovations" on the southern wall, including scaffolding. But Israeli archaeologists charged that the renovation work was being used a guise by the Wakf to expand a mosque just inside the compound. "In the name of so-called renovations, the Wakf will expand the recently-constructed mosque at the Temple Mount," said committee spokeswoman and Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, one of the signatories of the letter. The latest controversy surrounding unsupervised Wakf work near Judaism's holiest site comes in the backdrop of the massive Wakf construction project carried out in the late 1990's at an underground architectural support of the Temple Mount known as the Solomon's Stables, which was illicitly converted into what is now the largest mosque in Israel. Following the construction work, Wakf officials dumped more than 12,000 tons of earth, with history-rich artifacts, at a garbage dump outside the Old City, an action that the Antiquities Authority later called "an unprecedented archaeological crime." The renewed dispute also brought back to the fore the lack of Israeli archaeological supervision at the site, nominally the job of the Antiquities Authority. With violence flaring in the region, neither the government nor the antiquities authority have ever pressed for renewed archaeological inspection at the holy site, as required by law, and instead rely on police for reports of any unauthorized building at the bitterly contested site.