Israel Antiquities Authority Accused of Allowing Damage to Medieval Site

We all know about complaints that the Muslim authorities at the Dome of the Rock have been reckless in damaging Jewish archaeological remains at the site; now it’s the turn of the Israel Antiquities Authority be on the receiving end of a similar charge, from a Christian group. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Last week the High Court of Justice issued a temporary restraining order halting construction work by a Jewish organization in a Franciscan monastery on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion adjacent to the Cenaculum, the Latin term for the room where the Last Supper was held.

…David Bartholdy, spokesman for Tancredi, a Catholic organization that petitioned the High Court, said the construction infringed on Christians’ freedom of worship.

“This is a holy place for Christians of all denominations…Work being done there is causing serious damage to a monastery with important historical and religious value. Construction workers have already uprooted ancient floor tiling, scraped off a layer of plaster from the walls, broken down antique, chiseled doors, and all this under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority.”

“The construction work going on at the site raises the suspicion that someone is trying to Judaize a Catholic site and prevent freedom of religious expression.”

The Catholic Cenaculum is upstairs of a room containing a tomb which is venerated by religious Jews as belonging to King David, and the building is owned by the State of Israel. In 2005 there was a plan for Israel to hand over the Cenaculum to the Vatican in return for a synagogue in Toledo.

Also in 2005, Bartholdy was himself accused of trying to displace a Jewish organization, as was reported in the right-wing Arutz Sheva:

…a man named David Bartholdy has been making plans to build a multi-million dollar Catholic complex on Mt. Zion – displacing a long-time tenant, the Diaspora Yeshiva, in the process. He has lobbied many governmental offices on behalf of the project, which he calls the “Celestial Psalms Track” and which he is confident can earn $5 million a year.

The Yeshiva produced a press release, complaining about Bartholdy’s alleged methods:

According to Rabbi Herman, Senior Director of the Diaspora Yeshiva, the Catholic Church wants more than to acquire the Last Supper room from the State of Israel. While the Vatican has been preparing to take custody of the Last Supper Room, the Order of Franciscan Friars in Jerusalem, which administers the Custody of the Holy Land, plans to take control of the public walkways throughout the Crusader Era Complex. It is rumored that Mr. David Bartholdy of Haifa, has been fronted bribe-money by a Friar Pierre Patista, a top Franciscan official in Jerusalem, to make his way through the Israeli bureaucracy. So far, he has succeeded.

In a November 2 radio interview on Israel National News, Rabbi Herman said, “We know about a lot of envelopes of 10,000 dollars more or less being passed around amongst people. I know two people who’ve come to us and have told us [that] one was offered 300,000 dollars, one more than that, to help try and persuade the Yeshiva to vacate their properties in the King David’s Tomb area so that the Church can totally take over.”

Bartholdy is working with Keresz-Groag, an architectural firm that specializes in revitalizing historic urban sites, and the Israel Lands Authority. The Ministry of Tourism has set its sites on Mount Zion for its lucrative tourist income.

Arutz Sheva makes much of Bartholdy’s emphasis on possible tourist revenue from the site, and the theme of treasure to be gained by control of the area is one that has been around for a while. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor writes in his guidebook The Holy Land (p. 111):

…no one thought of locating [King David’s] tomb there until the very end of the C10 AD. It won little favout among the Crusaders, and both Jews and Muslims remained highly sceptical until the C15 when the legend of treasures buried with the king…gripped the imagination, then it became important to get the Franciscans out of the building which they had restored in the early C14.