July 16, 2007

Archeologists slam Temple Mount dig

From Jerusalem Post:

A group of Israeli archeologists has condemned the Antiquities Authority for authorizing Islamic trust officials to carry out a dig on Jerusalem's Temple Mount as part of work to repair electrical lines.

The work started last week on the northern section of the Temple Mount, with the approval of the Israel Police and the Antiquities Authority, Israeli and Wakf Islamic trust officials said, drawing the wrath of Israeli archeologists who said that the work, being carried out with a tractor and leaving an 80-meter-long, one-meter deep trench, had damaged the holy site.

The Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, which is composed of archeologists and intellectuals from across the political spectrum, has lambasted Israel's chief
archeological body forpermitting the work.

"The Antiquities Authority would never have allowed such damage to antiquities at any other archeological site in Israel," said group spokeswoman Dr. Eilat Mazar, a leading Temple Mount expert.

"The Antiquities Authority has the ability and full backing of the police to enforce real archeological supervision, but does not do so," she said, adding that the dig was being carried out "without real, professional and careful archeological supervision involving meticulous documentation. "

According to decades-old regulations, Israel maintains overall security control at the site, while the Wakf is charged with day-to-day administration. The Antiquities Authority declined to comment on the issue.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said that police, in coordination with the Authority, had given Wakf officials approval for the work.Wakf director Azzam Khatib said the work followed an electrical shortage in the Mount's Al-Aksa Mosque.

The Antiquities Authority, which by law is charged with supervising Israel's archeological sites, has in the past been criticized by the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount for overlooking large-scale Wakf construction on the site that has caused massive archeological damage, due to the political sensitivities involved.

The Islamic infrastructure work on the Temple Mount comes months after an Israeli excavation outside of the compound ahead of a now-nixed plan to build a new bridge to the Mughrabi Gate led to low-level Arab violence in Israel and the region.