Anyone wondering just how dangerous governmental indifference can be need only take a look at the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, for the evidence to be found there is simply overwhelming.
After years of blithely ignoring the Muslim Wakf's illegal and unsupervised construction on the Jewish people's holiest site, the government now finds itself in a quandary. A 10-meter-wide bulge in the wall has emerged, and archeologists are warning that it could disintegrate into a heap of rubble at any moment.
Warning of imminent danger both to public safety as well as to the Mount's unparalleled archeological heritage, the apolitical Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities sent a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week noting that there exists "a clear and present danger that the southern part of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount might collapse."
Speaking to Israel Radio yesterday, Dr. Eilat Mazar, a leading committee member, was even more blunt, saying that the question now is not if the wall will cave in, but "whether the wall will collapse on thousands of worshipers or if it will happen in a controlled manner." As this paper reported yesterday, this dire assessment of the situation was seconded by the Antiquities Authority, which has been prevented by the Wakf from visiting the site to survey the damage or repair it. The head of the authority, Shuka Dorfman, said on Monday, "I cannot tell you when it will happen, and I do not know what section will fall, but I can tell you that the southern wall is indeed in danger of collapse." Efforts to negotiate with the Wakf have proven fruitless, Dorfman said, noting, "The necessary cooperation needed with the Wakf is nonexistent. We cannot get in to carry out the tests."
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert rightly emphasized the critical nature of the situation yesterday, when he said in a radio interview that, "There are serious grounds for the concern that it could collapse. In my view we have reached the moment of truth." With such an alarm being sounded, it is time for the government to wake up and take notice. The damage to the Temple Mount would be inestimable should such a collapse be allowed to occur. It would constitute a grave desecration of the holy site, one that would almost certainly fuel further religious tensions in a region already awash in them.
For its part, the Wakf asserts that the bulge in the Mount has been there for three decades, and that in any event it will not allow anyone to oversee its work on the site. Nevertheless, as archeologists have noted, the bulge has grown both in size and scope.
It is therefore nothing less than scandalous that Sharon and Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau, who oversees the police, would allow the Wakf to continue to thumb its nose at the law in open defiance of the state and its institutions. Though this studied indifference has typified successive Israeli governments of both the Left and the Right, that is hardly a convincing excuse to permit such lawlessness to continue.
The Wakf needs to be held accountable for its actions on the Temple Mount, and it is time for Israel to finally assert its full sovereignty over the area. It can start doing so by putting an immediate end to all Wakf construction on the site. Teams of engineers and archeologists should be dispatched immediately to determine how best to prevent a catastrophic total collapse of the southern wall of the Mount, and all measures necessary to repair and refurbish it should be undertaken forthwith.
Failure to do so will not only send a message of Israeli weakness to the Palestinian Authority, which controls the Muslim Wakf, but could very well imperil the structural integrity of the site itself. Israel has thus far refrained from taking action for fear of how the Muslim world would react. But should the southern wall indeed collapse, it is not too difficult to imagine just who the Arab states would decide to blame. The time to act, therefore, is now, before it is too late.
©2002 - Jerusalem Post