Temple Mount Faithful petitions for excavation report

MKs claim full publication of secret State Comptroller’s Report will harm Israel, ask public to trust decision-makers.

Temple Mount Excavation 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Temple Mount Excavation 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Fearing mass-scale destruction of holy artifacts under the Temple Mount, the Temple Mount Faithful, a group that calls for the Jewish takeover of the site, petitioned the High Court on Thursday to order the full publication of the secret State Comptroller’s Report on excavation works being conducted at one of the holiest places in the world.
Last week, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss submitted his biannual report, which included a special, secret report on state supervision of the works being conducted by the Jerusalem Islamic Wakf at the site.
The majority of the special report was not published, with the reasons cited being harm to Israel’s national security and possible harm to its foreign relations, but the small portion of it that was made public spoke of severe deficiencies in the oversight of the appropriate bodies over the works.
According to the report, the four state agencies entrusted with enforcing the law in the Temple Mount – the police, the Antiquities Authority, the Jerusalem municipality and the Justice Ministry – did not do enough to conduct continuous supervision of the works and make sure that all of the artifacts were protected.
“Protection of artifacts from the Temple Mount and preventing their ruin is a public goal of the first order. It is important to note that any digging and other works on the Temple Mount must be conducted in consideration of the character of the place, and after receiving all required permits and meeting all archeological guidelines. As a rule, use of heavy machinery should be avoided,” read the report.
Temple Mount Faithful founder Gershon Salomon said that in recent years, the Waqf has conducted large-scale demolition and construction works all across the Temple Mount – but especially in places that have deep Jewish significance like the historic location of the altar – that have resulted in the destruction of historic artifacts, in what he claimed is a deliberate effort to destroy any remnants indicating the site’s Jewish past.
Salomon said that the works were being done without legal construction permits and with little or no official state supervision.
“The Jerusalem municipality comes down harshly on anyone who closes off a balcony without the required permits, but in the holiest of holies, anything goes,” said Salomon.
“They are systematically removing any Jewish vestiges of our historic temple and the state isn’t lifting a finger to stop it.”
Salomon said his organization was able to obtain photos of the construction works taking place that he claims provide evidence of what he calls the “Islamification” of the Temple Mount.
“The state fears that if they impose the laws on the works, the Arabs will spring up and revolt, so they allow them to do as they please,” said Salomon.
Salomon’s group has repeatedly called for the Israeli takeover of the Temple Mount and the construction of the third Jewish Temple on the site.
In 1990, the group attempted to place a cornerstone for the new Temple, triggering Arab riots, which ended with 17 Palestinians dying. Today the group holds regular demonstrations and raised funds for the future construction of the Temple.
In the petition, the group’s lawyer, Naftaly Werzberger, argues that the state authorities’ failure to adequately supervise the works at the Temple Mount was a violation of previous court decisions, and that the State Comptroller’s Report proved it.
He said that the decision to keep the full report under wraps was a cover-up for the state’s inaction and that the state was making cynical use of the threat to national security.
“The decision to keep the report confidential is a prize for lawbreakers, making the state and its values captive to the threats of anarchy and violence to the point of loosing sovereignty.
Only disclosure of the truth can cure the faults that the state comptroller uncovered,” read the petition.
Kadima MK Otniel Schneler, who chaired the Knesset State Control subcommittee on the Temple Mount works, which ordered that the full report remain confidential, told The Jerusalem Post that the committee had good reason to keep the full report secret and charged that anyone who asked to have it revealed in full would inadvertently be aiding in relinquishing Israeli sovereignty of the Temple Mount.
“The state has an interest to maintain sovereignty over the Temple Mount. In practical terms, this entails being able to enter and tour the site, with certain restrictions, to prohibit digging and construction that don’t have proper permits and other similar manifestations.
When the state comptroller finds failings or shortcomings, our job is to correct them, not to arm our enemies, who are trying to disinherit us from the site. We decided to prohibit publication out of deep and sincere concern for our sovereign rights. Any word said by a state institution can be used against Israel” said Schneler.
Schneler said that when he first read the report, he was in favor of publishing it in its entirety, but consultations with different relevant state agencies led him to the opposite conclusion.
“In order to reach the desired goals, we have to believe that the decision-makers love and cherish the Temple Mount no less than the petitioners,” concluded Schneler.
Schneler denied Salomon’s claims of zero oversight and said that all of the faults raised by the State Comptroller’s Report had already been corrected.
Yoel Hasson (Kadima), who chairs the State Control Committee, said that the fact that the report was secret doesn’t mean that the findings were ignored or that there would be no parliamentary oversight.
“The committee’s members will debate the report and remedy the findings, just as it treats all other reports. People must trust the Knesset’s decisions, even when it deals in issues that are not open to the public,” said Hasson.
Likud MK Yariv Levine, however, disagreed.
“While the committee can legally decide to designate the report or parts of it as confidential, I don’t believe there is any justification for it in this case,” said Levine.
“Instead of implementing our sovereignty, we are allowing the Waqf to do as they please. If the authorities aren’t doing their jobs, we should know about it and take steps to remedy the situation.”
“The scare tactics about an alleged threat to national security are baseless,” Levine continued.
“The Waqf knows about everything that goes on in the Temple Mount and if there is anything that could have harmed Israel, they would have let the world know about it long ago. I accept keeping secret, certain, specific information that can harm us, but making the entire report confidential is completely unreasonable.”