Court halts sale of Western Wall 3D stone scans amid fraud claims

Western Wall Photo: Einat Levron

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation claims it was fraudulently told the images were solely for academic purposes.

The Jerusalem District Court has issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the sale in an auction of 3,572 3D professional scans of Western Wall stones. The state, which petitioned the court for the injunction, claims that the photographer obtained the images with permission from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation under false pretenses. The state claims that the photographer showed a false presentation to those in charge of the Foundation and issuing permits, under the pretext that the images were solely for academic work.

In its petition for a temporary injunction, the state said, "We are dealing in practice with 3D scans based on images for which the entire purpose is commercial. It will already be noted that the was petitioner only recently informed of the plans of the respondents (Avraham Cohen, Noam Pollack and Dean Rubin) to conduct this sale and thus this petition has been submitted in the small amount of time still available.

"This assistance is essential to protect the sanctity of the Western Wall, the holiest site in the State of Israel and of the Jewish people, with commercial use made of its stones that exceeds the permit granted by the Foundation for the illegal financial gain of the respondents."

The petition states that Avraham Cohen came to the Western Wall Foundation's offices a month ago and presented himself as a former IDF soldier who was discharged from duty due to injury. He claimed that due to his distressed emotional circumstances, he had been awarded a scholarship to study photography at a prestigious US university and that in order to be accepted he had to submit a creative project that demonstrated his talent. He proposed capturing 3D images of each of the Western Wall's stones in order to produce a virtual presentation. He requested permission to undertake the project using a drone.

After receiving permission to embark on the project, although not with a drone, Cohen came to the Wall with a team of four photographers. The camera shoot was conducted in the presence of a representative of the Foundation and according to the procedures for photography at the Western Wall. It was made clear to Cohen that the images were for visual purposes only and not for commercial sale.

Two weeks later, the Western Wall Foundation started receiving enquiries about a virtual auction in which Western Wall stones would be sold. Representatives of the Foundation had no idea what this entailed.

But several days ago, it became apparent that a website the Holy Rock project was selling 3D scans of Western Wall rocks. The state's petition says, "There is no dispute that the images would not have been allowed under the permit that was obtained fraudulently."

In response Adv. Moshe Ben Basat said on behalf of the respondents that Avraham Cohen had sent the images of the Western Wall to an artist to make virtual models of the Western Wall's stones that will be available for sale to whoever wanted to purchase the 3D representations of the Western Wall stones and that in his opinion no instructions or procedures of the Western Wall had been violated including the instructions of the law on the matter.

According to the regulations on protecting the sites holy to Jews, "no person can take photographs for payment except with permission from the Minister of Religious Affairs and according to the terms of the permit." The discretion held by the Minister of Religious Affairs is if the images are for the aims of education, culture, or presentation in the cinema or on TV.

The petition was filed to the Jerusalem District Court after the Western Wall Heritage Foundation sought counsel from the Attorney General on how to prevent the commercial sale.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 30, 2021.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

Western Wall Photo: Einat Levron
Western Wall Photo: Einat Levron
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