Government 'Tried to Bury' Report on Temple Mount Excavations

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

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.

David Bachar

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.