Israel’s state comptroller published a special report yesterday on Muslim excavations on the Temple Mount. The report concluded what anyone who has followed the issue already knows: The Muslim Waqf (religious trust), in whose hands Israel left day-to-day control of the site when it captured the mount in 1967, has conducted massive excavations without a permit and without the required archaeological salvage digs, often using heavy machinery. In the process, it has irreversibly destroyed an untold number of antiquities.
Yet the report nevertheless included both some new information and a timely reminder. The new information can be derived only by implication, because aside from the conclusion, the entire report was classified, “to guarantee state security and to prevent damaging Israel’s international relations.”
That classification itself is significant, however, because there’s only one way the findings could possibly damage Israel’s international relations: if it turned out that the destruction of antiquities was carried out not by a few Islamic radicals, but with the active connivance of one or both of the two Israeli “peace partners” to whom Israel has granted a say in the mount’s management: the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas, and the Kingdom of Jordan.
Since the PA’s role is much more active, it is the more likely culprit. And it would certainly be hard for the government to explain why Israelis should consider Abbas a “peace partner” if his administration were busy destroying archaeological evidence of the Jews’ ancient presence in the Holy Land. After all, such destruction hardly accords with acceptance of the Jews’ right to a state in this land; rather, it smacks suspiciously of trying to assert that they are interlopers with no rights here at all – as do Abbas’ written falsifications of history and his insistence, reiterated again just this week, on eliminating the Jewish state via a “right of return” for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.
But it might be equally hard to sell Israelis on the value of “peace” if Jordan turned out to be the culprit. If, 17 years after signing a peace treaty, Jordan were still so unreconciled to Israel’s existence that it felt a need to destroy all trace of the ancient Jewish presence in Jerusalem, what would that say about the likelihood of reconciliation with the even more virulently anti-Israel Palestinians?
Valuable as this new information is, however, the report’s most significant conclusion is an old but still timely one. The Temple Mount, where both Temples were located, is Judaism’s holiest site; it also presumably contains unique archaeological findings of unparalleled religious, cultural and historical significance. Protecting these findings, the comptroller stressed, is thus “a public duty of the highest order.”
Since doing so would almost certainly involve a clash with the Waqf that could spark widespread violence, the government’s reluctance is understandable. Nevertheless, it is disastrously misplaced. For if Israel’s government cares so little about Jewish rights in this land that it will stand idly by while this unique trove is destroyed, how can it expect the rest of the world to take these rights seriously?