Oct 15, 2007 11:32 am


My opinion piece of this title, co-written with Morton Klein, appeared recently in Muslim World Today, which I reproduce below:

Largely unnoticed and unreported, destruction and irreversible damage to priceless Jewish antiquities beneath Judaism's holiest site Jerusalem's Temple Mount, has been proceeding unhindered for several weeks. How can this be? Because the Temple Mount and the two mosques built on it have remained under the control of the Waqf, the Muslim religious authorities, since Israel reunited the two halves of the city in the 1967 Six Day War.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, to which Jews turn in prayer, but is of far lesser significance to Muslims than Mecca and Medina, which Muslims face while praying. Mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible but not in the Quran, Jerusalem held little interest for Arabs during the years of Jordanian occupation (1948-67). Jordanian King Hussein excepted, no Arab leader visited the city in these years.

Today, however, the Arab world speaks of liberating the city from Jews; Jerusalem Day parades attract throngs in Muslim capitals, including faraway Teheran; and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Waqf explicitly deny history and Jewish religious attachment to the city and even the past existence of the biblical temples. Three examples:

Yasser Arafat: “That is not the Western Wall at all, but a Moslem shrine.”

Former PA Minister of Religious Affairs, Hassan Tahboub, “The Western Wall is Muslim property. It is part of the al-Aqsa Mosque. Once we control it, Jews must remain six feet away from our holy wall.”

PA Ministry of Information: “Thirty years of Israeli excavation has revealed Islamic holy places, Roman ruins, Armenian ruins, but no tangible evidence of anything Jewish was revealed in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Jews have implanted a biblical myth in the mind of the world.”

It is in this context that the event of recent weeks must be understood. In July, the Waqf commenced digging a trench five feet deep and some 150 yards long for the laying of electrical cables and water pipes, using a mechanical digger, cutting through the subsoil and piling it up beside the trench. New photographs of the work zone show carved stones casually dumped in a pile that appear to be a section of the outer wall of the Second Temple, according to archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar.

Mazar, a member of the faculty at Hebrew University and a member of the Public Committee for Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, explains that the current ground level of the Temple Mount is slightly above the original Temple Mount platform,"meaning anything found is likely from the Temple itself." Mazar attempted to inspect the site some weeks ago, but was stopped by Israeli police who are protecting the construction.

Dr. Gabriel Barkai, of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount calls the current digging an act of barbarism."They are digging in the most crucial and delicate point of the Temple Mount - of the whole country. They should be using a toothbrush, not a bulldozer." Dr Barkai identifies the area currently under excavation as the outer courts of the Second Temple, built by Herod the Great in the First Century BCE. He maintains it is where the best preservation of antiquities was anticipated, since other parts of the compound are built on exposed bedrock.

Nonetheless, the Israel Antiquities Authority approved the construction despite the archaeologists' concern that precious artifacts are being destroyed. The Authority, which digs for religious artifacts across the State of Israel, has not inspected construction even once since the work began, despite continuous calls for the construction to be supervised and halted. Israeli Police spokesman, Mickey Rosenfeld, asserts that the police stationed on the Temple Mount will not prevent the construction because the Antiquities Authority approved the dig. Meanwhile, the Waqf denies any wrong-doing and says that the Temple Mount is in"occupied territory."

This is but the latest episode in archaeological vandalism beneath Temple Mount committed by the Waqf. Already in 1970, the Waqf undertook excavation exposed a 16-foot-long, six-foot-thick wall that scholars believed may well be the eastern wall of the Herodian Temple complex. The wall was dismantled, destroyed and covered up.

The Waqf's activities led Israel's Supreme Court to declare in 1993 that the Waqf had violated Israel's antiquities laws on 35 occasions, many involving irreversible destruction of important archaeological remains. The court expressed confidence that in the future Israeli authorities would correct their past errors, but this has proved unfounded.

In 1999, the Waqf dug an enormous stairway down to an underground mosque, which involved the removal of hundreds of truckloads of archaeologically rich dirt which was dumped into the adjacent Kidron Valley. When archeology student Zachi Zweig began to explore the mounds of dirt for antiquities, he was arrested at the behest of the Israel Antiquities Authority - for excavating without a permit. Subsequent sifting has yielded precious artifacts from biblical times.

Such a disastrous history of failed protection obliges the Israeli government to act immediately to preserve what remains of a site that is the holiest in Judaism and of world significance to civilization. No digging with heavy machinery should ever be taking place at such a site, which surely demands, at a minimum, the usual safeguards, care and archaeological supervision that would be applied in excavating any other site of even minor historical significance.

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