[In response to this piece and other news items which contain a clear warning that the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is in jeopardy, Adnan Husseini, the Moslem offcial in charge of the Islamic authority, the Wakf, was intreviewed on the Voice of Israel Radio program and declared that the Wakf would not allow any safety inspections whatsover on the Temple Mount, since Husseini declared that any news reportage on this issue would represent “Zionist propaganda”, in his words.]

The Moslem month of Ramadan is scheduled to begin in another three weeks, and hundreds of thousands of Moslems will throng to the Temple Mount, as [they do] every year, to attend the special prayers that are held there. But this time, Israeli officials fear, it could end in a terrible catastrophe, on an unthinkable scale: in recent security establishment situation assessments officials spoke about their fear that the compound known as Solomon’s Stables would collapse on the tens of thousands of worshipers attending prayers there. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has already instructed security officials to take every measure possible to prevent that scenario from playing out.

Solomon’s Stables is a vast subterranean space in the eastern part of the Temple Mount. The Wakf turned the area into a mosque eight years ago, and concentrated worshipers on two main levels: the ground floor and the roof. The combination of the unmonitored excavation work that was carried out beneath the compound, the laying of very heavy floor tiles on its upper level, the earthquakes that have affected Israel in the most recent years and the accelerated pace of wear and tear have turned that sensitive compound into a very precarious structure. The stories and walls have all moved, and the supporting walls are beginning to show cracks.

Notwithstanding the fact that in the past year Jews have been permitted to visit the Temple Mount once again, and troops from the Jerusalem District Police’s holy places unit maintain a permanent presence in the Temple Mount compound, Israeli engineers have been barred to date from entering Solomon’s Stables to assess the danger. However, an analysis report compiled by Antiquities Authority engineers, on the basis of the findings of an Egyptian delegation of engineers who examined the site, established unequivocally that there was real danger of the immediate collapse of Solomon’s Stables on top of worshipers filling the lower and upper levels of the mosque. The engineers were particularly concerned by the weakness of the three arches that support the ceiling in the eastern part of the compound. Moreover, the brief amount of time until Ramadan prayer services are scheduled to begin, on October 14, does not leave enough time to add supports to the structure.

In light of the engineers’ report, the security establishment constructed a scenario – that has fairly high chances of playing out – in which the ceiling collapses on top of thousands of worshipers during Ramadan prayers, killing hundreds if not thousands of Moslem worshipers.

On regular days during Ramadan, more than 50,000 people enter the mosques in Solomon’s Stables to worship, but the security establishment is afraid of what will happen on the first Friday on Ramadan and the special Leilat el-Kader prayer service (marking the day the Koran was given to Mohammed and the fate of the faithful is decided), during which close to a quarter of a million Moslems throng to the Temple Mount.

If it happens to be rainy on the day those prayers are held, the chances of the structure collapsing will increase by hundreds of percent, since the demand for an enclosed place of worship will increase, and the pressure on the lower level’s ceiling will increase as a result of the extra people and [the weight of] the rainwater.

Israeli officials have already appealed many times to the Wakf in Jerusalem and in Jordan, and have warned of the terrible catastrophe that might ensue. The Israeli warnings notwithstanding, Wakf officials have refused to restrict the number of worshipers in Solomon’s Stables during Ramadan. Palestinian sources said the Israeli warnings were geared to keep Moslem worshipers away from the Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramadan.

As a last resort, the former commander of the Jerusalem District Police, Cmdr. Ilan Franko, and Lt. Cmdr. Nisso Shaham, the commander of the David district, which has the Temple Mount compound in its jurisdiction, left last week for Jordan, where they continued with the persuasion efforts. They met with Wakf officials and members of the royal court, entreating them to order the restriction of the number of worshipers who will be permitted into the Solomon’s Stables compound during Ramadan and, in tandem, to begin work in the mosque to save the structure. As far as could be ascertained, these efforts did not produce any results.

Israeli officials have still not decided what course of action to take if the talks with the Jordanians fail. The dilemma, admit Israeli security officials, is not simple at all: on the one hand, forcibly barring worshipers from entering the compound could set off bloody riots and anger the entire Moslem world. On the other hand, if the structure collapses, heaven forbid, it could very well be perceived as an Israeli plot-despite and perhaps even because of all the Israeli warnings.

This article ran in Maariv on September 26th, 2004