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Temple Mount Drama

December 10, 2007
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Beneath the surface of the Dome of the Rock platform lie untold archaeological secrets, and thanks to digging by the Muslim Waqf (religious trust), some of those ancient treasures were disturbed this summer by a new electrical cable running to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In order to put in the new line, a trench, more than 1,312 feet (400 meters) long and up to 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) deep, was dug into the Temple Mount.The excavation work, now completed, was stopped in September, and the trench filled in.

Photo by Sam Taylor Dr. Gabi Barkai,an Israeli archaeologist and a member of the Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities upon the Temple Mount, called the excavation on the Temple Mount “a brutal, barbaric act.” “It was a dig carried out with heavy machinery in a place where a toothbrush should be used…It [did] considerable damage [to antiquities]. The damage was [the] removing of soil which is saturated with archaeological finds, and it disconnected built remains and earthen layers from the original context to which they belong,” he said.

Barkai explained that a massive, thick wall that is a foundation to a structure that may have been the outer wall of the Women’s Court in the Second Temple was destroyed. “In the trench itself, the remains of a wall was damaged and destroyed. The stones of the wall were visible on both sides of the trench,” he said.

However, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) inspectors sent to the site determined, according to Jon Seligman, IAA Jerusalem district archeologist, that the “work was done in a manner not to cause any damage, so we don’t have any complaints about the way the work was conducted by the Waqf.” Seligman also said he had not heard about the Second Temple wall find and that “if it’s anything involving the work that was done by the Waqf in the last few months, there’s no truth in that.”

The Waqf, under the jurisdiction of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is given day-to-day management over the Temple Mount by the Israeli government, which still maintains official sovereignty and security on the site with Israeli police. In addition, the IAA is charged with protecting and recording archaeological artifacts in Israel, and it had representatives at the dig.

However, Barkai said IAA representatives were not discharging all their duties, probably at the instruction of the Israeli government. “In my humble view, they are observers, but they did more damage than they helped,” said Barkai. “By the very fact that they are there, they give legitimization to the destruction of antiquities.”

Carlo, an Italian tourist visiting when the digging was still ongoing and who did not know the reason for it, said the efforts were not “the best scenery to see, for sure…especially because I would like, as a tourist, to know exactly what they are digging.” When a Jerusalem resident was interviewed about the trench, he said, “We need to respect everyone: Arab, Christian, Jew. They [Arabs] need to respect what they are believing; and we need to stay in the Land in peace.” He also said they needed people from a neutral nation, such as Switzerland, to watch the work.

This is not the first time Barkai has been involved with construction activity on the Temple Mount. A large pit dug north of Solomon’s Stables in 1999 to give access to a new underground mosque drew protests and led to the creation of the Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities upon the Temple Mount. In addition, Barkai has sifted through some of the tons of archaeological debris dumped in the Kidron Valley from previous unsupervised digging. He said that during two-and-a-half years of sifting efforts, they have made “tens of thousands of finds,” including war artifacts, jewelry, pottery, and coins.

By Joshua Spurlock, Correspondent,
BFP Israel Mosaic Radio

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