February 28, 2008

The Latest Damage to Antiquities on the Temple Mount

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has just published an article called The Latest Damage to Antiquities on the Temple Mount. An excerpt:

It is only too evident that the on-going Waqf excavations on the Temple Mount, which are generally carried out without archaeological supervision of any kind, have severely damaged antiquities from many periods. Since 2004, archaeologist Dr. Gabi Barkai and Zachi Zweig have been sifting through the rubble the Waqf removed from the Temple Mount to the Kidron Valley eight years ago.

The project is being carried out in the Tzurim Valley, not far from the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University. The archaeologists in charge, aided by hundreds of volunteers, occasionally document new discoveries and publish pictures.18 An article appearing in Ariel contained information about finds described as "very small" because, during the excavation on the Temple Mount, the Waqf separated out the larger pieces from the rubble and reused the ancient building blocks, since the Waqf feared the police would prevent them from bringing new building materials to the site.

Among the small findings recovered were a few pre-historic flint implements, approximately ten thousand years old; many pot shards; about a thousand ancient coins; many varicolored items of jewelry made of various materials, including pendants, rings, bracelets, earrings and beads; decorations for clothing; amulets; ivory and bone dice and game pieces; ivory and mother-of-pearl furniture insets; icons and statuettes; stone and metal weights; weapons and ammunition such as arrow heads and musket balls; broken pieces of stone and glass utensils; stone and glass squares from floor and wall mosaics; decorated wall hangings and fragments of decorations from buildings; seals and seal impressions; and many other items.

The most ancient findings were glass fragments ten thousand years old. Only a few pottery shards and fragments of alabaster vessels were found belonging to the Canaanite and Jebusite periods (the early and late Bronze Age), but many items were found belonging to the late period of the Kings of Judea (8th and 7th centuries BCE), including stone weights for weighing silver. The most striking find was a seal impression with letters in the ancient Hebrew script of the last days of the First Temple.

One can only imagine what findings could have been rescued and researched if the pit dug by the Waqf on the Temple Mount down into Solomon's Stables had been excavated under archaeological supervision. For example, in October 2005, Hungarian archaeologist Tibor Grull reported on a find in the publication of the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research.19 In 2002, Grull visited the Temple Mount where he found part of a stone tablet, a fragment from a monumental Latin inscription which bore the name of Flavius Silva, Governor of the Province of Judea in 79-73 BCE and the general who laid siege to Masada. The Waqf permitted Grull to photograph and document the find, which was part of the dedicatory inscription of a triumphal arch built by the Romans on the Temple Mount after the destruction of the Second Temple and the city. Members of the Waqf told Grull that the fragment came from the great pit dug in 1999. According to the Antiquities Authority, other finds have made their way to the black market.

Zweig has also examined photographs of the ditch dug by the Waqf in the summer of 2007. By August 2007, the ditch had reached a length of 350 meters and an average depth of about 1.2 meters. Twenty meters south of the eastern steps of the Dome of the Rock, a massive, ancient wall was uncovered which, according to expert opinion examining its location and size, could very well be the southern wall of both the Women's Court (Ezrat Nashim) and the Chamber of Oils (Lishkat Hashmanim) that were part of the Second Temple.20

Despite the many legal petitions filed, mainly by the Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, the Israel Supreme Court has not intervened, even though its members are well aware that Islamic groups continually violate the laws governing construction and antiquities. For example, the court rejected a petition filed by the Temple Mount Faithful, determining on January 1, 2000, that it could not rule because the issue was "clearly the job of the government," since it had implications for public peace and the general good.

For this reason, the court ruled that while there was nothing to prevent it from intervening in cases of illegal activity on the Temple Mount, such intervention would be the exception that proved the rule. There had to be a compelling reason for the court to take exception to its standard procedures and trespass on the territory of the executive authority.21 Nonetheless, current petitions still under review by the Supreme Court are seeking its intervention to prevent the use of tractors by the Waqf on the Temple Mount, and to prevent any construction work at night.

The Sharon government began to reassert Israel's rights on the Temple Mount by re-opening the area to all international visitors in August 2003. But in the last few years, the Waqf's abuse of the archaeological heritage of the Temple Mount has been resumed. The bottom line is that officially, the Temple Mount is subject to Israeli law, while, in reality, Israeli law is not consistently enforced there. The government, its various authorities, and the Supreme Court accept the situation because of what is known as "the deeply religious and sensitive nature of the site and fear for public peace if the law were enforced there as elsewhere."

The Waqf, the Islamic Movement, and various Islamic groups have exploited the situation and have seriously damaged Temple Mount antiquities. The Israel Police plays the dominant Israeli role and its activities are coordinated with the prime minister's office and the office of the attorney general, while the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem municipality have only limited influence over what is done at the Temple Mount.

Click here to read the full article on the destruction of the Holiest site in Judaism being perpetuated by jealous Muslims.