Will preservation of ancient Roman road destroy the Western Wall?
The construction will 'cause generations of weeping' over damage to the site, says one professor.
One of the country's leading archaeologists has publicly condemned the Israel Antiquities Authority's failure to object to a plan to construct a building over a site in the Western Wall plaza where a well-preserved ancient Roman road was recently excavated.
"I would like to take advantage of this forum to raise the bothersome, and even despair-inducing, question of what will happen to these wonderful finds after the excavation is complete," Yoram Tsafrir, a former archaeology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told his colleagues at an archaeology conference Thursday.
The construction will cause generations of weeping over the serious damage to the site, Tsafrir said at the conference on archaeological findings in the Jerusalem area sponsored by the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology and the Antiquities Authority.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which was established by the government in 1988 and is involved in the physical maintenance of the Western Wall area, has received approval to construct a building on the western section of the plaza that will serve as a police station and provide public services.
The foundation is also planning to build a 4,800-square meter, three-story museum and educational institute that would display the Roman road on the ground floor, where visitors could see it.
But the plans to integrate the ancient road into the building do not mitigate the potential harm, Tsafrir said.
"Even the most amazing architect will not be able to avoid damaging the find," he said, adding that visitors will not be able to grasp the full extent of the road by seeing a segment in the museum.
The Antiquities Authority, which serves as an observer on the planning committees that approved the construction, said the area in question has been designated for religious purposes since Israel took control of the Western Wall in 1967.
"Yoram is my teacher, but in this case I think he's mistaken," said Uzi Dahari, the deputy director of the Antiquities Authority. "I don't see anything improper in the structure."
Dahari said the building planners will preserve the findings and allow visitors to view them.
The Roman road is a "dramatic" find, said archaeologist Guy Stiebel. "One of the amazing things [Shlomit Wexler-Bdolah] discovered is that the Romans, and not the Byzantines, laid the foundations for Jerusalem."
Tsafrir argued that the construction is being approved because the findings are not from a period of Jewish rule over Jerusalem.
"One day, we can hope, the entire length of the road might be revealed," he said. "That will be able to happen when more enlightened groups run the city and the country and the cultural treasures that are in it - those that understand that even monuments that aren't Jewish have significance."