UNESCO: Israel must stop work near Al-Aqsa Mosque pending agreed plan

Soldiers pass by as Israeli bulldozers carry out controversial work on a pathway next to the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, in the Old City of Jerusalem, 6 February 2007. (MaanImages/Magnus Johansson)

Although Israeli archaeological work for an access pathway in Jerusalem’s Old City does not threaten the Al-Aqsa Mosque and complies with professional standards, Israel should at once stop excavations and consult on a final plan with Muslim religious authorities and other parties, according to a United Nations experts’ report.

The report, drafted by a technical mission sent by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) amid international concerns over the excavations, said Israel “should be asked to stop immediately” since work already undertaken was deemed sufficient to assess structural conditions for the pathway to the Mughrabi Gate after a partial collapse in 2004 due to heavy rain and snow.

It noted that no work was being conducted inside the Haram es-Sharif area containing the mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, and excavations ended 10 metres from the Western Wall, considered a holy site by the Jews as a remnant of the Biblical temples.

The Islamic Waqf (religious authorities) of Jerusalem has called the work illegal since under international law no action should be undertaken in an occupied city. Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 war. The Waqf asked UNESCO to intervene, saying it also feared the excavations would destroy the last vestiges of an old Muslim quarter demolished after 1967.

The mission, which spent four days in Jerusalem, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, said Israel should clearly define a final design which should restore the Mughrabi pathway without major change in structure or shape.

Israel should be asked to engage immediately in consultations with all concerned parties, in particular the Waqf and Jordan, which has a special role in the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem, to agree on a plan of action and refrain from any further work pending such a decision. The process should then be supervised by an international ream coordinated by UNESCO.

The report called on Israel to comply with a decision taken by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee last July calling for all relevant information on new buildings planned and work in the relevant area. Israel began the work in January without communicating with UNESCO.

The mission was led by UNESCO World Heritage Centre Director Francesco Bandarin, the Director-General of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property Mounir Bouchenaki, the President of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Michael Petzel, and the World Heritage Centre’s Veronique Dauge. It stayed in Jerusalem from 27 February to 2 March.

Related Links

  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • Egypt Gov’t Challenged over Israeli Action at Mosque, Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani (7 March 2007)
  • More than a walkway, Daoud Kuttab (13 February 2007)
  • PCHR Condemns Israeli Diggings near Al-Aqsa, PCHR (11 February 2007)
  • UNESCO voices ‘deep concern’ at Israeli construction work in Jerusalem, UN News (8 February 2007)
  • PCHR: Stop the destruction of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, PCHR (7 February 2007)