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Destroying History

Destroying History

A thundering silence on Temple Mount's depredation.

by Hershel Shanks

No one really cares. But that puts me in an elite group: It includes two of Israel's most prominent Jerusalem archaeologists (Gaby Barkay and Eilat Mazar) -- and me. And a few religious or Zionist kooks. That's about it.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Waqf goes on tearing up Jerusalem's Temple Mount, where once the Jewish Temple stood. The week before last, they hit an ancient wall that might be the foundation of a wall from the Second Temple complex built by Herod the Great.

It's an old/new story. For the past 35 years the Muslim religious authority known as the Waqf, to whom Israel has been given custody of the Temple Mount, has been periodically digging it up -- illegally. (That's the Israel Supreme Court's characterization.) Several years ago, for example, the Waqf used mechanical equipment to dig a huge hole for a wide stairway down to a greatly expanded underground mosque, dumping hundreds of tons of dirt from the mount into the adjacent Kidron Valley.

When Zachi Zweig, a graduate student of Barkay's, started looking for antiquities in the Waqf dump, the Israel Antiquities Authority had Zweig arrested for digging without a permit. Since then, Barkay has obtained the permit and, with Zweig, they have engaged in a multi-year project sifting this archaeologically rich dump. They have found thousands of ancient artifacts going back 3000 years, including a seal impression of a probable brother of someone mentioned in the Bible.

Now the Waqf wants to lay new telephone and electric lines on the mount. Under Israeli law, in an area that might contain antiquities, the trench must be excavated by professional archaeologists. (The same holds true for construction: Such areas must first be professionally excavated, most often by the Israel Antiquities Authority.) The Waqf simply ignores this law, however. A few weeks ago they began digging a utilities trench almost five feet deep, often going down to bedrock. Worse still, the workmen were using mechanical equipment--anathema to any professional archaeologist in such a site.

It's certainly all right for the Waqf to lay new telephone and electrical lines. But there would seem to be no reason why the trench could not first be excavated by professional archaeologists who dig by hand and with great care to document the context of all discoveries--no reason except the Waqf's unwillingness to recognize Israeli law.

On July 18, 2007, I published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, headed "Biblical Destruction," protesting the Waqf excavation. It has had no effect. Since then, the excavation has been extensively expanded.

Observers have reported seeing numerous antiquities in the excavated dirt and in the trench, including mosaic tesserae, a quantity of pottery vessels (some of which had been freshly broken by the tractor scoop) and carefully carved and decorated building stones typical of the Second Temple period. Last week, as I said earlier, the excavation hit part of an unusually wide wall that has now been destroyed. It could well have been part of the Temple complex.

Barkay and Mazar continue to protest vehemently and publicly. But they have mostly been met with silence. The archaeological community as such has not raised its voice. Each archaeologist is concerned with his or her own dig, not someone else's violation of the antiquities law. And why jeopardize a career by making trouble when all the well-known political names and faces remain silent? Yes, a few newspaper articles have appeared, but nothing serious. The Antiquities Authority has been queried on several occasions about this violation of Israel's antiquities laws -- on Judaism's holiest site -- but the response has always been the same: "No comment."

This thundering silence perhaps explains why the Israeli embassy in Washington has not provided any account or explanation of this depredation on the Temple Mount. Why raise questions and create a problem when nobody really cares?

Ed. Note: If you care and do not want to remain silent, click here to send the Israel Antiquities Authority your note of concern:

Published: September 8, 2007


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Visitor Comments: 17

(17) Cynthia Smith, September 20, 2007 7:25 PM

Temple Mount illegal dig

Please take interest in the saving of artifacts and do something to stop the illegal dig by the Muslims. Thank you
Mrs. Cynthia Smith

(16) Consuelo Endara, September 18, 2007 11:19 PM

what a difference!

Some months ago the whole world protested because of the rebuilt of a ramp close to the Kotel and the muslims said it put on danger the Al Aksa mosque, which was not true at all. Now they are destroying invaluable archaeological rests that could be part of the Second Temple and the world remains in silence. I´m not surprissed about the arabs no respecting Israeli laws. What it is really terrible is the silence of the authorities who can stop this atrocity.
P.S.- Sorry about my English!

(15) K.Ruiz, September 14, 2007 6:04 PM

Illegal Arab Takeover

It is not only the destruction of archaeological sites and artifacts that lie beneath the Temple Mount. The Arab world is illegally spreading through Jerusalem and establishing claims to the land illegally built in that piece of ground.

A 2006 report sponsored by the privately funded Office for Public Inquiries for East Jerusalem showed that Jerusalem's Arabs have constructed more than 20,000 illegal structures in the city in the last two decades. The illegal construction has been met with virtually no opposition from a listless Israeli government. Such impotence in the face of danger is a telling sign of Israel's lack of commitment to Jerusalem.

Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor for the Jerusalem Post, summarized the shocking details of the report. "The political aim of the illegal construction is made clear by its financing sources," reported Glick. "Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the PA, Saudi Arabia and the EU have spent millions of dollars in financing illegal construction in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, often on state and privately owned lands" (May 14).

Great strategy and coordination has gone into planning where the illegal Arab structures should be located, as Glick pointed out: "In an effort to degrade the Jewish character of the city, for instance, Arabs have built homes on state-owned lands adjacent to the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives …." Illegal Arab structures have been constructed at other strategic locations throughout the city, including along major traffic arteries and near airports. Illegally built, Arab-owned homes and buildings now straddle Highways 60, 1, 4 and 443 in Jerusalem, and illegal construction has rendered the Atarot airport insecure.

But the most outrageous angle of this story is the sheer impotence Israel has shown by not responding to these Palestinian incursions.

Reported Glick, "The illegal Arab construction, which has placed most neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the highway approaches to the city within rifle range of hostile gunmen, has been met with indifference by the Israeli governing bureaucracy. …

With the exception of the Netanyahu government, every Israeli government since 1993 has enabled the Arabs to undermine the state's control of Jerusalem. While paying lip service to the city's unity, by errors of commission and omission, Israel's governments have failed to defend the property rights of public and private land owners in Jerusalem. They have allowed the PA, enemy states like Saudi Arabia and the EU to openly abet illegal building projects in the city.

The Israeli government may claim it loves Jerusalem, but the reality on the ground tells a different story. The fact that all this illegal construction, much of which potentially endangers Jewish residents, has occurred over the past 20 years with little opposition from the Israeli government reveals that most Israeli leaders have lost their love for Jerusalem.

Any politician who cherished Jewish influence over Jerusalem would surely fight fiercely to enforce the laws against illegal construction. Surely if Jewish residents of Jerusalem deeply prized Jewish sovereignty of the city, they would be pressuring their government to take action. There are segments of the Jewish population in Jerusalem that are upset, even furious about the illegal construction occurring—but, it appears, not enough to make a difference.

(14) Allen, September 13, 2007 4:30 PM

Temple Mount

It is a criminal offense to dig up the Temple Mount. The hypocritical world remains silent & no outcry from the UN.

(13) Anonymous, September 11, 2007 6:57 PM

Now let say Israel had done a similar act on a Moslem site...the west and arab countries would have a field day. It is simple, when it comes to Islam,there is one rule, after all offending a lasrge segment of the world is unthinkable, a few million Jews or buddhists..well that is another matter..

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