By Nadav Shragai,
June 29, 2000.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak yesterday ordered that the waqf, or Islamic religious trust, be permitted to continue its tiling work on about 200 meters of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, up to the Golden Gate (also known as the Gate of Mercy).
The order came at the end of a meeting of ministers, senior officials and security officials held at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss the ongoing work being carried out by the waqf in the Temple Mount compound.
Barak also instructed the authorities to allow archaeologists from the Antiquities Authority onto the site and to prevent the tiling work from developing into more extensive construction activity. This directive came in the wake of warnings by security officials that the waqf intends to turn large areas on the Temple Mount into another mosque and that the tiling activity is only the first step in that project.
The prime minister rejected a recommendation from Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein and the Antiquities Authority to halt the tiling work or limit it so that it stops short of the Golden Gate. He also vetoed a recommendation to prevent the entry of heavy machinery, trucks and tractors to the Temple Mount, but directed the relevant officials to maintain “reasonable supervision” of the traffic entering and leaving the compound through the Lions’ Gate (St. Stephens’ Gate).
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who attended the meeting, called for police to be stationed at the Lions’ Gate to block the entry of trucks, bulldozers and building materials to the Temple Mount.
After the meeting, he said, “no one is suggesting that we break into the Temple Mount compound with bayonets,” but “cautious, intelligent” action should be taken “in order for us to regain control of the Temple Mount.”
Barak’s policy and security adviser Danny Yatom said after the meeting that its conclusions, which he refused to divulge, would ensure that the status quo on the Temple Mount is preserved, and prevent it from being violated by the waqf.
“We will do everything to maintain the status quo, but not to change it – not in our favor and not in anyone else’s favor,” Yatom stated.
The Shin Bet security service warned that extreme right-wing groups were agitated by the waqf’s construction work on the Temple Mount and might try to break into the site or take other action to protest the damage they claim is being done to sacred Jewish antiquities.