A number of public figures and intellectuals are furious over what they say is their wrongful inclusion on the membership list of a committee critical of the handling of antiquities on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a holy site hotly contested by Jews and Muslims.
- Secret Report on Temple Mount Published
- Archaeologists Find Link to First Temple in Controversial Dig
- Archaeologists: Waqf Dig Endangering Relics That May Have Been Part of Temple
Over the years, the Public Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount has petitioned the High Court of Justice over government policy regarding the treatment of the antiquities on the Temple Mount. In 2008, the committee brought about a state comptroller’s report highly critical of the authorities, particularly the police and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Attorney Israel Caspi, a leading member of the committee, said at a meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee two months ago, “I will quickly list the names of the prominent members on our stationary masthead." He proceeded to cite the names of acclaimed authors Haim Gouri and A.B. Yehoshua, as well as philosophy professor Avi Ravitsky, law professor Uriel Reichman, former minister Dan Meridor and other leading public figures.
Haaretz checked with a number of people whose names were mentioned and who appear in the committee's promotional material and discovered that most of them have not been associated with the committee for years. Some were angered over the use of their name. Gouri and Yehoshua's names are particularly significant for the committee, allowing it to present itself as a secular, apolitical body.
The Public Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount was established in 1999 following excavations on the Temple Mount by the Waqf Muslim religious trust, which caused major damage to antiquities there. The state comptroller’s report that emerged from the committee’s criticism was never released in Israel for security reasons, but was recently posted on an American website.
At the time of the committee's establishment, authors, academics, lawyers, politicians and archaeologists signed on. Unlike other groups dealing with the Temple Mount, the committee is careful not to identify with the political right. Over the years, the group has continued to use the names of people who say that they no longer share its criticism of the authorities' handling of the Temple Mount antiquities.
Gouri said he was involved with the group in its early days, but that following police claims many years ago that the committee was mistaken in its allegations, he visited the Temple Mount with a leading archaeologist. That visit, he said, changed his perspective. “I am an Israeli patriot, and Jerusalem is dear to me. I said I want to see with my own eyes if it is really true. They know full well that in this matter we have gone our separate ways. To take my name and mention it today is more than unfair,” Gouri said.
Yehoshua said, “At the time that they approached me [apparently 1999], I joined because I thought the excavations have to be done under supervision. But I don’t remember that they approached me again. I agree with the general principle that excavations should be supervised and coordinated with the antiquities authorities, both ours and the Palestinians, for the sake of the history of both peoples.”
“I didn’t know I was a member of this organization. I think I supported a petition of theirs about 10 years ago, but I do not support their statements against the Israel Antiquities Authority and the police,” said a senior archaeologist whose name also appears on the list.
Former Jerusalem District archaeologist Amos Kloner was also involved with the committee when it was established. However, he said, “since that time, I had a small disagreement with the members, and in fact, I haven’t been involved for more than 10 years, and they don’t consult me.
Reichman said, “I agreed to add my name to a call for supervision by the Israel Antiquities Authority of the excavations on the Temple Mount. This supervision is essential to protect historical heritage. I have no connection to the ongoing activities of the committee.”
Meridor said, “I think a great effort should be made to preserve the archaeology, but I don’t know the details. As memory serves me, they haven’t approached me in recent years.”
Other figures' whose names are on the list of committee members, although they are not active, include attorney Shmuel Berkovitz, a leading expert in holy places in Jerusalem, who was among the committee’s founders and represented it in the High Court of Justice, and Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, who said he was “not active, but I know what it’s about, and I strongly agree.”
The list on the committee’s stationary also includes many people who have passed away, for example, former Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau, former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek and the archaeologist Ehud Netzer.
Caspi said that the committee “has been operating for 14 years to prevent destruction of the antiquities on the Temple Mount, to stop the extreme powerlessness of the various authorities, as it is seen in the harsh state comptroller’s report that was recently revealed to the public. The activities of the committee are known and open, among them on the committee’s website and its Facebook page. Members of the committee support its activities over the years and have not raised claims of this nature.”