New York – The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has protested the Israeli government’s continuing failure to protect priceless antiquities beneath Jerusalem’s Temple Mount from being destroyed by the Waqf, the Muslim religious authority controlling the site. The Waqf was allowed by Israel to retain control of the site after Israel reunited eastern Jerusalem with the western half of the city in the 1967 Six Day War.
In recent days, excavation work on the northern platform of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock upon Temple Mount undertaken by the Waqf has proceeded without regard to the archaeological information or treasures that may lie below. The excavation work for the purpose of installing new electric and phone lines is proceeding without necessary preparatory professional archaeological excavation, a required procedure everywhere in Israel before work can be undertaken at sites with archaeological significance. Significant remains — pottery, tesserae from ancient mosaics, tiles and even architectural fragments — have already been observed in the soil from the excavated part of the trench.
According to one report, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has quietly granted permission for this destructive dig, which would otherwise be a clear violation of Israeli law. According to archeologist Hershel Shanks, editor of the scholarly journal Biblical Archaeology Review and author of the forthcoming Jerusalem’s Temple Mount – From Solomon to the Golden Dome , the “destruction is particularly great in places where bedrock is no deeper than the trench [being dug]. Some of the digging is being done with mechanical equipment, instead of by hand as a professional archaeological excavation would be conducted. I don’t know who are worse: the Muslim religious authorities digging up Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, or the Israeli authorities who are allowing it to happen” ( Wall Street Journal, July 18).
As they have in the past, Palestinian Arab leaders claim that neither Solomon’s Temple nor Herod’s Temple ever existed on the site. In a recent interview, Palestinian Justice Minister Taysir Tamimi stated, “About these so-called two temples, they never existed, certainly not on the Haram al-Sharif.”
This is but the latest episode in archeological vandalism beneath Temple Mount committed by the Waqf
- In 1970, the Waqf excavated a pit without supervision that exposed a 16-foot-long, six-foot-thick wall that scholars believe may well be the eastern wall of the Herodian Temple complex. An inspector from the antiquities department saw it and composed a handwritten report (still unpublished) before the wall was dismantled, destroyed and covered up.
- In 1993, Israel’s Supreme Court found that the Waqf had violated Israel’s antiquities laws on 35 occasions, many involving irreversible destruction of important archaeological remains. The court declined to enter an injunction, however, expressing its confidence that in the future Israeli authorities would correct their past errors.
- In 1999, to accommodate a major expansion of an underground mosque into what is known popularly as Solomon’s Stables in the southeastern part of the Temple Mount, the Waqf dug an enormous stairway down to the mosque. Hundreds of truckloads of archaeologically rich dirt were dug with mechanical equipment and then dumped into the adjacent Kidron Valley. When archaeology 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. Since then, a major legal sifting operation of this dirt by Professor Gabriel Barkay of Bar Ilan University (together with Mr. Zweig) has uncovered thousands of artifacts from all periods going back more than 3,000 years. They include a seal impression of a probable brother of someone mentioned in the Bible, Babylonian arrowheads dating to the destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century B.C. (as well as other arrowheads from battles on the Temple Mount), thousands of coins (many dating to the Great Revolt against Rome), beautiful jewelry and even an ancient Egyptian scarab.
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “It is truly tragic that the Israeli government has defaulted on its responsibility to protect the site of greatest archeological significance to the Jewish people and perhaps the world from vandalism by the Waqf. As the statement by the PA official and (and many others like him) show, the Palestinian Arabs have no respect for Jewish sanctuaries and history in the land, which is unsurprising since they deny that either ever existed. Moreover, they have a strong motive in destroying all evidence of Jewish history in Jerusalem and Israel for the purpose of maintaining the lie that Jews have no connection with the land.
“Israeli law is quite explicit that such excavations are illegal yet unfortunately discretion is given to the government to permit diggings and it here where the Olmert government has failed so badly, to its everlasting shame. No excuse can justify this failure of responsibility. The Israel government has a strict duty to protect Jewish sites which it cannot and should not shirk. The tragedy is that timely Israeli action could have prevented this latest act of vandalism.
“Protests against these Waqf excavations have been lodged by prominent Israelis from every point on the political spectrum, including from the late mayor Teddy Kollek, author Amos Oz, archaeologists Ephraim Stern, Ehud Netzer, Eilat Mazar, Professor Barkay and the nonpolitical Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount. The ZOA adds it voice to theirs and calls upon American Jewish organizations to protest these developments directly to the Israeli government with all possible urgency so that further destruction of Jewish sanctuaries and heritage in the heart of Jerusalem can be avoided in the future.”