Israel Doesn't own Holiest Site
Nov. 20, 1997
JERUSALEM (AP) _ The Western Wall is Judaism's holiest site, but Israel does not own it _ apparently because of a bureaucratic oversight.
The news came Thursday from an Israeli lawyer who has studied Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.
The Wall is the outer bastion of the Second Jewish Temple, built in the 1st century B.C. by the Jewish King Herod and destroyed in the following century by the Romans. Since then, Jews have prayed at the Wall and revered it.
The Temple Mount, which includes the Wall, is revered by Muslims as the place where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. It is the site of two great mosques, Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock.
After Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, it expropriated the land beside the Wall and leveled houses there to make room for thousands of Jews to come and pray.
It did not, however, expropriate the Wall itself, which remains the property of the Waqf, or Islamic Trust, lawyer Shmuel Berkowitz told The Associated Press.
The Islamic Trust administers the Temple Mount, known in Arabic as Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and other Muslim holy sites.
The senior Muslim cleric, or mufti, in Jerusalem, Sheik Ikrema Sabri, said it does not matter whether Israel expropriated the Wall or not.
``We don't recognize such orders,'' he said. ``The Wall is part of all the walls surrounding the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Jews don't own it.''
A senior Israeli official said the disclosure is not important.
``Nobody is going to do anything to the Wall,'' said David Bar-Illan, adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. ``It appears to have been a bureaucratic oversight.''