Knesset Interior Committee holds heated discussion over alleged destruction of ancient Jewish relics on Temple Mount

MK Feiglin accuses Wakf Muslim religious trust of illegally removing antiquities from First and Second Temple eras.

temple mount 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
temple mount 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The 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.”
Feiglin 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.
The discussion was initiated by MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi), Feiglin and MK Hilik Bar (Labor) to address their joint concerns over the alleged infractions.
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 site.
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 Mount.
“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 oversight.
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 completion.
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 claims.
“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.