Beware the Falling Mount

Extensive excavation and construction work carried out in and around the Temple Mount compound may have destabilized adjacent to ancient walls and structures. Waqf rejections of the Israeli warnings are irresponsible and must not prevent necessary precautions.

Extensive excavation and construction work has been carried out in and around the Temple Mount compound since 1967: The Religious Affairs Ministry expanded the Western Wall plaza, and cleared out and dug archways and tunnels along the length of the ancient Western Wall; an Israeli archaeological team carried out excavation work along the length of the southern wall and at the foot of the Al-Aqsa Mosque; the Muslim Waqf repaired the damage caused by the torching of the mosque in the summer of 1969 by an eccentric young Australian; and in recent years, Waqf employees have cleared out the large underground spaces - known as Solomon's Stables or the Marwani prayer hall - in the southwestern corner of the mosque compound, and have carried out extensive excavation work to prepare entrance ways.

All this work has been carried out adjacent to ancient walls and structures, raising serious concerns that the walls have been destabilized. Experts are even warning of a collapse, which would cause a disaster. Just a year or so ago, there was a rockfall below the Mugrabi Gate, adjacent to the women's prayer area at the Western Wall.

The fears now have intensified significantly. A few years ago, protrusions, testifying to instability, appeared in a number of sections of the southern and eastern walls. Some of these were caused in the severe earthquake that struck Jerusalem in 1927, and others appeared clearly after the minor quake that occured last year.

Renovation work on the protrusions is being carried out by Jordan's Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs and Holy Places, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Waqf administration.

Ahead of the month of Ramadan, which begins in some two and half weeks' time, Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra and police officials have warned that the presence of tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers in the mosque compound could cause a collapse and a terrible catastrophe.

The warning pertains to the underground expanses known as Solomon's Stables, which have been turned into a prayer hall that can house thousands of individuals. The marble tiles that have been laid there are putting pressure on the spaces below them, as well as on the exterior wall in the southwestern corner, where the dangerous protrusions can be seen.

If in addition to this thousands more worshipers assemble in the plaza above Solomon's Stables, the ancient archways could collapse and lead to a horrific disaster.

The Waqf administration has rejected the Israeli warnings; and spokesmen for the Islamic Movement in Israel, which participated in the restoration of Solomon's Stables, used even harsher language. They charged that the government's warning's are motivated by a political intent to deter Muslims from coming to worship at the holy site.

Irresponsible accusations such as these can only serve to intensify the sensitivity and dangers that envelop everything that happens on the Temple Mount. In any event, this sensitivity must not be allowed to prevent the necessary precautions from being taken.

The danger exists in only a very small section of the mosque compound. There is an ongoing dialogue among the Waqf administration, the Jordanian authorities and representatives of the Israeli government, and everyone should agree to restricting the number of worshipers in the prayer hall and on the roof of Solomon's Stables.

The mosque compound is an extensive area that can accommodate hundreds of thousands, and the restrictions in question relate to a few thousand individuals being prevented from entering one corner of the Mount.