A State Comptroller’s report harshly criticized three government agencies for their conduct toward the Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, which operates Jerusalem’s City of David National Park and settles Jews in predominantly Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
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The agencies in question are the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The report said these agencies awarded projects to Elad without a tender. Moreover, the antiquities authority failed to supervise archaeological work done by Elad, while the INPA failed to supervise Elad’s management of City of David and never received vital financial data about the site. The state-owned development company leased one of Jerusalem’s most important archaeological sites to Elad without a tender and at a very low price.
In 2005, Elad signed an agreement with the INPA under which the organization assumed management of City of David National Park. In 2012, the contract was amended, after the High Court of Justice ruled that while Elad could operate the site, overall management must remain in the INPA’s hands. Yet in fact, the comptroller found, from February 2015 to February 2016, the site had no INPA manager, because the agency never appointed one.
Nor did it oversee the site’s financial management, the report said. It cited one case in which Elad submitted several different reports for the same year, each giving a different number of visitors to the site. Yet the INPA never questioned the discrepancy. Moreover, Elad never submitted certain documents the INPA requested, making oversight of its financial management impossible, the report said.
The report also criticized the INPA for treating certain expenditures by Elad, like money spent on Elad’s research center, as investments in the City of David, when they actually served the organization’s private interests.
The comptroller was particularly critical of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which sorts through debris that was removed from the Temple Mount by the Waqf Muslim religious trust that administers the site.
The INPA awarded the project to Elad without a tender a decade ago, and it has yet to even sign a contract with the group, the report said. Nor, incidentally, was this the only project the INPA awarded to Elad without a tender.
Moreover, the antiquities authority hasn’t properly supervised the sifting project, whose purpose is to find archeological relics among the rubble, the report said.
The comptroller also discovered a draft contract between the Israel Antiquities Authority and Elad authorizing the latter to conduct archaeological digs near the City of David over the next five years. The area in question is actually overseen by the INPA, yet that agency wasn’t a party to the contract. Nor did the contract specify the bounds of the dig.
The Jewish Quarter development company similarly awarded Elad management of one of Jerusalem’s most important archaeological sites — an ancient underground water system in the City of David — without a tender. The contract was later extended without any examination of the site’s value, even though the number of visitors to it had soared.
In 2014, the development company signed a contract giving Elad control over the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, near the Western Wall, again without a tender or any assessment of the site’s value. The state later went to court to try to cancel the contract.
Finally, the report criticized the Israel Lands Authority for signing leases with both Elad and the development company for the same section of the City of David, making it unclear which group actually owns the rights to it.
In sum, the report said, all these agencies essentially “forfeited the state’s authority” over one of the most sensitive parts of Jerusalem.
The INPA and the development company both promised to correct the problems the comptroller cited. Inter alia, the INPA said it is currently working on a tender for management of the debris sifting project, even though by law, it isn’t required to issue a tender if more than 50 percent of a project’s funding comes from an outside party. It has also made changes to ensure closer supervision of the City of David, it said, and is discussing the contract for the dig there with Elad and the antiquities agency.
In a response, the Israel Antiquities Authority said it has supervised the Temple Mount Sifting Project for the past three years.
Elad said in a response that the report acknowledges that under its management, visits to these important sites have skyrocketed, which is a testimony to its “fruitful cooperation” with the state agencies. It said some of the problems cited in the report have already been fixed and the rest would be fixed.