Last year, Dr Zahi Hawass spoke to Heritage Key in a video interview about the restoration work being carried out at the Moses Ben Maimon (Maimonides) synagogue in Cairo by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (see the video at the bottom of this page). With the project nearing completion, the SCA chief has today announced that a planned celebration to mark the reopening of the restored monument has been cancelled.
Dr Hawass explained that the decision comes in the aftermath of Israeli authorities prohibiting worshippers from praying in the Al-Aqsa mosque in the West Bank.
The West Bank has been on lockdown since March 5, when violence flared following the provocative Israeli announcement that 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers are to be built in the mainly Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 and annexed in a move not recognised by the international community. The accouncement followed violent clashes in the West Bank town of Hebron in February after Israel declared its intention to add two ancient shrines revered by Jews and Muslims to their list of protected national heritage sites.
The Al-Aqsa mosque the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and the holiest site in the world to Jews, who call it Temple Mount is a notorious flashpoint between Muslims and Jews. Since Friday, men under the age of 50 and non-Muslims have been barred from entering the compound. Israeli authorities fear renewed violence if the centre of worship is reopened.
Considering the risk of trouble, we maintain the state of alert and restrictions on access to the Temple Mount, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.
Speaking last year, Dr Hawass insisted that there is no political agenda in restoring the Moses Ben Maimon synagogue, located in the Jewish quarter of old Cairo and named in honour of a great Jewish religious leader and scholar. Jewish temples are part of our history, he told Heritage Key. If we dont care about the Jewish temples, we dont care about our history.
But the decision to cancel the restoration celebration has seen the SCA embroil itself in an overtly political dispute.
An SCA press release states that, in response to questions from journalists following the announcement, Hawass explained: Egypts devotion to preserve its monuments on its land is reflected in Egypts inhabitants of different faiths (Islamic, Coptic, Jewish) living in a harmonious atmosphere. It is a message to the whole world that there is not any difference between the religious monuments and places whether Islamic, Coptic or Jewish.
Hawass also took the opportunity to deny rumours that the Moses Ben Maimon synagogue will be transformed into a museum for Jewish collections, since Egypt only has a very small amount of Jewish objects, and they are part of Egypts larger cultural heritage. These artefacts will be put on display in several national museums now under construction in different towns in Egypt, he said.
Video – Restoring the Jewish Synagogue of Moses Ben Maimon Featuring Dr Zahi Hawass: