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Comptroller Temple Mount Report Stays Behind Closed Doors

reprinted from Jerusalem Post
04/08/2010

by Rebecca Anna Stoil and Jonah Mendel

Schneller: It's no secret that many archeological findings are being destroyed.

A gag order is being maintained on a sensitive state comptroller's report believed to blast the lack of Israeli oversight on the Temple Mount, but most of the report is expected to be cleared for publication before the Knesset reconvenes in mid-October, The Jerusalem Post was told Tuesday.

The report, which discusses Israel's authority on the Temple Mount, including governmental oversight of excavations and construction on the site, is viewed as highly sensitive for diplomatic and security reasons, and the first Knesset debate on the report was held Tuesday behind closed doors.

The report probes, among other bodies, the performance of the Jerusalem Municipality, the Antiquities Authority, and the Israel Police in enforcing laws and regulations pertaining to the site, as well as the roles of the attorney-general and respective prime ministers in confronting and shaping policy in the face of the challenges posed by the site in recent years.

MKs who read the report described it as "all-encompassing" and "very serious", but noted that the report only concerns the performance of governmental bodies covered within the mandate of the State Comptroller's Office. The report does not examine the activities of non-governmental bodies, except regarding official bodies' responses to their actions.

"The report revealed many problems that cannot be accepted in a democratic state that tries to prevent by law the destruction of a cultural site that is significant, as a world cultural site and a Jewish one," said MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who heads the State Control Committee subcommittee on security, foreign affairs and international trade relations, which was tasked with reviewing the report.

"My subcommittee is dealing with two aspects: [firstly] the findings themselves, in order to ensure that in each situation the international and Israeli laws will be upheld without relation to the other issues concerning the site.

"The second aspect is what parts of the report will be presented to the public, balancing the principle of the right of the public to know and oversee and the other considerations in the report itself."

Schneller said that Tuesday's hearing was the first of many, and that ultimately most of the report will be published and presented to the Knesset.

"We will direct most of our effort to publishing most of the report as quickly as possible," he added. "It is not a secret that the Waqf is building on the Temple Mount, that works have been done, and that many archeological findings have been destroyed." But Schneller noted that "those who are potentially responsible are the authorities on the site, which is, in essence, the government of Israel."

Almost two years ago, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss was asked by the State Control Committee to examine the enforcement of the Antiquities Law on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is dominated today by the al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

In 1981, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO declared the Old City, Jerusalem and its walls to be a world heritage site. In 1982, the Old City and its walls were declared an endangered site, and in 1999, Israel joined the UNESCO accords, making the preservation effort binding upon the Israeli government.

The most recent probes into preservation or the lack thereof on the site that is holy to both Islam and Judaism, were carried out under the auspices of UNESCO, following the organization's 2003 resolution "to prepare a comprehensive plan of action to safeguard the cultural heritage of the Old City of Jerusalem."

Five expert missions in the years 2005-2006 noted the impact of archeological excavations and deterioration of monuments, among other factors endangering the historic sites.

In 2007 a UNESCO technical mission was sent to examine the reconstruction work Israel was conducting on the Mughrabi ascent leading to the Temple Mount, which had collapsed after a snowstorm in 2004.

The ensuing report repudiated the Arab claims that the works would "destroy the last remains of the Mughrabi Quarter and remove the archaeological evidence of the Ayubid and Mamluk periods," but reprimanded Israel for conducting the works to fortify the ascent without conducting a consultation process "with all concerned parties, in particular the authorities of the Waqf and of Jordan."

Government 'tried to bury' report on Temple Mount excavations

reprinted from Haaretz
04/08/2010

Knesset to discuss 'suppressed' report on potentially explosive Temple Mount excavations.

by Nir Hasson

It is over two months since State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss completed his report on excavations at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem yet the Knesset will only discuss his findings this week, giving rise to charges that the government tried to suppress the controversial document.

The report has not yet been published but Knesset sources who have seen it say it contents are so sensitive that they could spark riots once revealed.

Lindenstrauss, whose office functions as the government's official watchdog, was in 2007 tasked with investigating two trenches being dug on the Mount, which is known to Muslim as the Haram-al-Sharif and is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, after the work sparked protests from archeologists.

The excavations are being carried out by the Waqf, an Islamic body which run Muslim sites, in order to lay electrical cables. Knesset sources say the report has indentified damage to archeological remains caused by the digging.

Any digging at the site in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City is potentially explosive. In 1996 Benjaim Netanyahu, then in his first term as prime minister, ordered the opening of a tunnel beneath the Western Wall, sparking riots in which 80 people were killed.

In 2000 Ariel Sharon, then leader of the opposition, provoked Arab outrage when he ascended the mount - often cited as the event that ignited the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

But while any controversy at the holy site carries the danger of violence, some members of the Knesset subcommittee due to discuss the findings say they have been suppressed to mask the shortcomings of government bodies, rather then because of security concerns.

Lindenstrauss's report is expected to point the finger at government bodies, as well as the Waqf, in failing to monitor work on the site. The national Antiquities Authority, the police the Prime Minister's Office, the Attorney General and the Jerusalem municipality are all expected to come under fire.

The Comptroller will conclude the Antiquities Authority and the municipality were effectively evicted from the Temple Mount after the 1996 disturbances, leaving supervision of development work in the hands of the police, which was unequipped for the task.

Police have so far failed to open to a single file on destruction of antiquities.

"The likelihood is that the Waqf has carried out hundreds of illegal excavations, construction projects and demolitions," said Shmuel Berkovitch, an expert on Jerusalem's holy places.

 

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