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Press Release – 15 February 2007

What is going on in the Old City of Jerusalem?

In 2000, Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. This event has been cited as the catalyst for the outbreak of violence that sparked a six-year “Intifada” or uprising which has seen the death of thousands. In fact, the Intifada actually began the day before, when a solider was killed on a routine patrol in the Gaza Strip.

The Old City is now once again the site of controversy. This time, the debate centres on plans to replace an existing walkway which was rendered unsafe in a 2004 earthquake. In accordance with universally established archaeological principles a preservation dig is being mounted at the site of the walkway prior to the commencement of construction. The site of the excavation is adjacent to the Western Wall plaza in the vicinity of the Temple Mount.

Despite the fact that the works have been coordinated with Muslim authorities with responsibility for administering the Temple Mount Israel has now been accused by some in the Muslim world with the trusty canard of trying to ‘undermine the Al-Aqsa Mosque’ and an emotionally charged incitement to violence

“The area has become quite the media circus, with film crews lining up for a piece of the action, though very few have taken the time to simply present the facts as they stand”, said Sam Salcman, Acting President of the State Zionist Council of Victoria. These are:-

In February 2004, an old ramp – The Mugrabi Bridge – leading up to the Temple Mount collapsed as a result of earthquakes and snowstorms. An interim bridge made from wood was erected but was later deemed a safety hazard. For the welfare of tourists and other visitors, a new bridge is needed. A Communication by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the new bridge ‘will also be at the disposal of the security forces in order – for example – to prevent stones from being hurled at the Western Wall plaza’ as was the case in 2000. Access is also necessary because according to Yuval Baruch, an archaeologist with the Jerusalem district of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Mugrabi Gate is the only entrance to the Temple Mount for non-Muslims – Jews, tourists and others, according to an agreement reached after the Six Day War. Only Muslims are permitted to use the other gates.”

The columns that were ordered to be constructed last week were 80 meters from the Temple Mount. While the ramp itself will be fully excavated, the Temple Mount itself will not be touched. The Antiquities Authority ‘has never excavated or permitted any excavations in the area of the Temple Mount, due to its historical value’. The bridge itself will be located at a distance of ten meters to the west of the Temple Mount wall.

Because of this urgent need for repair, the Israel Antiquities Authority (who must approve any construction on declared antiquities sites in Jerusalem) ordered for a plan to be drawn up for a replacement, and on 25 January 2007, the appropriate Ministers gave the approval for the construction of the bridge.

According to the Antiquities Authority, salvage excavations must precede any construction. These are directed by a team of archaeologists using internationally accepted methods. They do this to prevent and minimise damage to ancient remains. This particular dig is taking place in the Jewish Quarter, in co-ordination with the Islamic Wafq, the Jordanian Government and all other relevant authorities. It is also being carried out in cooperation with UN officials and other members of the international community.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stated that: ‘I have instructed all elements involved to work with complete transparency and to show anyone who is interested there is an essential need to build a new bridge. Anyone who goes there sees this for himself. There is no activity that is designed to dig under the Temple Mount. This is an activity that is taking place outside the [Temple Mount] wall only.”

Additionally, Israel has always done whatever she can to ensure that the Holy Sites, irrespective of the religion to which they are holy, are preserved in an appropriate and respectful way. As Tzipi Livni, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has stated, ‘the Temple Mount is the site most holy to the Jewish people. The State of Israel will never to [sic] anything to harm the freedom of worship of members of all religions – Jerusalem or anywhere else in Israel.’

It is interesting to note that the motivations of those Muslims who protest against the construction of the Mugrabi Bridge. It is because they fear these excavations, not because they physically endanger al-Aqsa’s foundations, but because they undermine the tissue of lies proclaiming that the Jews have no valid historical roots in the city and its holy sites. Additionally, while they protect about the most careful, delicate and protective preparations being made to assure that the bridge construction will be safe, secure and respectful of all structures and artefacts at the site, the Islamic trust has been carelessly excavating history-filled dirt at Solomon’s stables, over 12,000 tons of which, along with countless archaeological treasures, has been unceremoniously disposed of in a garbage dump outside the Old City.

“There is nothing malicious, nothing deeper going on, just a simple case of a country doing what it can to ensure the safety of all who come to the Holy City”, Salcman added. Jerusalem’s Mayor, Uri Lupolianski, has now temporarily suspended construction of the bridge to allow some time for the tension to diffuse.

For more information contact:

SZCV Executive Director, Ginette Searle 9272-5544

SZCV Information Chairperson Ian Samuel 0416-044881