I wrote a year ago in "Nightmare on Temple Mount" about the likelihood of a Temple Mount wall collapsing due to a combination of rogue activities by the Palestinian Authority on this holiest of sites and a baffling insouciance on the part of the Israeli government. The particular problem I worried about was addressed in time by a crew of Jordanians, but that was hardly the walls' only vulnerability. Yesterday, a section of an interior wall has indeed collapsed, uncovering an area of some 40 square meters of dirt and fill. So far, the repercussions have been far fewer than I expected last year, but comments from the PA blaming the problem on "Israeli interference" seem designed to rabble rouse. And things could get worse: Eilat Mazar, an archaeologist at Hebrew University, suggests that "a terrific series of collapses" could follow. (September 24, 2003)
Feb. 16, 2004 update: Another section of the Temple Mount's wall collapsed today, Reuters reports, this time part of a 800-year-old stone embankment adjacent to the Western Wall weighed down by snow and perhaps weakened by a small earthquake some days earlier. Eilat Mazar noted that this was the fifth time in two years that parts of the walls had crumbled, buckled, or cracked as a result of unsupervised construction by the Waqf, the Islamic authority. "What concerns me most is the Temple Mount itself is in danger of collapsing."
May 19, 2004 update: "Eastern Temple wall in danger of immediate collapse" reads today's Jerusalem Post headline. In it, Etgar Lefkovits reports that the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, told a parliamentary committee that the eastern wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount is in danger of immediate collapse, and this could, in a "domino effect," bring down other parts of the compound. Lefkovits also notes a classified Israel Antiquities Authority report which states that the February 11, 2004 earthquake damaged the eastern wall of the Temple Mount so badly that sections of the wall are liable to cave in on the underground architectural support of the mount, known as Solomon's Stables.
Aug. 5, 2004 update: In an important analysis, "The Expulsion of the Palestinian Authority from Jerusalem and the Temple Mount," Dan Diker documents in a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs issue brief how, with few observers quite realizing it, the Israeli authorities succeeded in getting the Jordanian and Egyptian governments to establish control over the Islamic sanctities in Jerusalem. Of particular relevance to the collapse issue is how they these two have stopped playing the Palestinian Authority's brand of games:
Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy made a number of secret visits to Amman where he met with top advisors to King Abdullah regarding the situation on the Temple Mount. … The acute danger of collapse of the compound's southern and eastern retaining walls were also discussed – the result of the removal by the PA-controlled Waqf administration of nearly 20,000 tons of rubble and Jewish antiquities from beneath the Temple Mount since 1996. On several occasions beginning in late 2002, and as recently as April 2004, delegations of Jordanian and Egyptian officials, including engineers and architects, arrived in Jerusalem to assess the damage and initiate repairs to the southern and eastern retaining walls. …
Amman has taken a leading role in the restoration of the compound's southern wall, and collected at least $4 million from Morocco and other Arab states for repairs to the Golden Dome and the Al Aksa mosque. Jordan invited Egyptian engineers to spearhead repairs to the "bulging" eastern wall. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has "blessed" the Jordanian and Egyptian repairs, while the Israel Police under the overall direction of the Prime Minister's Office has brought an end to illegal Waqf digging and the major mosque construction both on and under the Temple Mount.
That said, the danger is not completely over: "Israel Antiquities Authority officials and leading archeologists continue to warn that full Israeli supervision of Arab restorations and construction must be restored to avoid the potential collapse of parts of the ancient compound, which falls under Israel's sovereignty and international legal responsibility."
Comment: It could well be that this reassertion of Jordanian and Egyptian control – harking back to the 1949-67 period – symbolizes a larger despair of Palestinian self-rule. Already, the first signs of this can be seen in Israeli invitations to Cairo to resume some security functions in Gaza.
Sept. 26, 2004 update: Ma'ariv reports that, notwithstanding the repair efforts, Israeli officials worry that "Solomon's Stables," an underground space on the east side of the Mount that since 1996 serves as a mosque, could collapse and bury thousands of Muslim worshipers.
Oct. 14, 2004 update: This year during Ramadan, the Israeli police are taking steps to prevent catastrophe. They announced an plan to limit the number of Muslim worshipers on the Temple Mount unless the Islamic authorities agree to ban worshipers from the Mount's fragile southeastern corner, where digging in Solomon's Stables could lead to a collapse of the esplanade above. Israeli officials worry about an "unimaginable disaster" killing thousands. Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra announced that "If the Wakf does not agree to the Israeli demand to not allow worshipers into Solomon's Stables we will view this as a real and immediate threat and will have to limit the number of worshipers from 250,000 to 50,000 or 60,000." For their part, Wakf officials dismiss the warnings as an Israeli conspiracy to obstruct the Ramadan prayers.
Oct. 15, 2004 update: The Wakf authorities may bluster in public but the Israeli police found that "sufficient measures had been taken to build scaffolding and cordon off the dangerous areas" so that they did not need to limit access to the holy site.
Dec. 4, 2010 update: Col. Yoram Lev-Ran, commander of the Jerusalem district of Israel's Home Front Command, warns of a disaster on the Temple Mount, predicting to an Israeli weekly that a collapse will happen, and that the only "question is when? And how many will be killed and injured?"
Comment: Over eight years have passed since my article was published – and still no crisis, I have become a bit skeptical of claims of imminent collapse. Still, the possibility is real and replete with global dangers