Amid UNESCO Flap, Israel Will Sponsor Rightist NGO's Temple Mount Project

Netanyahu calls decision 'crushing response' to what he calls UN body's attempt to deny Israel's Jewish history.

A view of the excavation of the City of David, just south of Temple Mount, in Jerusalem. The picture clearly shows the growth of the modern city around the ancient one, on a day marked by sandstorm (hence the brown, murky color of the sky).
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that the government will help fund an archaeological recovery project focused on the Temple Mount and operated by a right-wing organization.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project sorts through debris that was removed from Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which Muslims call Haram al-Sharif, during a 1999 excavation by the Waqf Muslim religious trust that Israel viewed as illegal. The project is operated by the Ir David foundation, commonly known as Elad, which operates the City of David National Park and settles Jews in predominantly Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel, near the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Netanyahu slammed the recent resolution by the UN’s United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that refers to the Temple Mount only as Haram al-Sharif and makes no mention of Jewish ties to the site.

Addressing employees of the Israel Antiquities Authority who attended the ceremony, the prime minister said they “have given a crushing answer to those who are trying to deny, disappear, wipe out the history of our people in our land, as expressed in Unesco. I advise UNESCO to stop blurring and concealing the truth and focus on the real danger to world cultural treasures from radical Islam. Israel is almost the only place in the Middle East where radical cults aren’t destroying mosques and churches, and they’re complaining about us?” Netanyahu said.

IAA Director Yisrael Hasson compared the UNESCO resolution to the destruction of antiquities by the Islamic State organization. “Around us, antiquities are being destroyed by murderers and recently UNESCO joined this campaign of destruction by diplomatic means,” Hasson said.

Hasson pledged to cooperate with Elad, saying that before beginning military service every young Israeli would spend a day working in archaeological digs in Jerusalem, whether in the Western Wall plaza, the Davidson Archaeological Park or the City of David.

The archaeological campus, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, will house a significant part of IAA operations. A large underground warehouse will store national artifacts and many of the IAA’s archaeological findings.

The building will not be completed for several months. Figures in the IAA said the inauguration was held this week with an eye to increasing the contributions needed to complete the project.