New York The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has written to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urging him to immediately take action to stop the wanton destruction of priceless Jewish antiquities on Jerusalems Temple Mount by the Waqf, the Muslim religious authorities who control the Temple Mount area. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, but of lesser significance to Muslims than Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem is mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible, but not even once in Quran. When Jordan controlled the Temple Mount between 1948 and 1967, no Arab leader other than King Hussein of Jordan visited the mosques there; 58 synagogues, however, were destroyed. In recent days, reports indicate that the Islamic Waqfs desecration and destruction of the Temple Mount has intensified. The Waqf, which is digging a trench five feet deep and some 150 yards long for the laying of electrical cables and water pipes, is using a mechanical digger, cutting through the subsoil and piling it up beside the trench. Israeli archaeologists say such material should be carefully sifted and documented, as it would be even at sites of far lesser significance than this most sensitive Jewish religious and cultural location.
New photographs of the work zone show carved stones casually dumped in a pile that appear to be a section of the outer wall of the Second Temple, according to archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar. Mazar, a member of the faculty at Hebrew University and a member of the Public Committee for Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, says it is crucial this wall is inspected. She explains that the current ground level of the Temple Mount is slightly above the original Temple Mount platform, meaning anything found is likely from the Temple itself. Mazar insists that she must personally inspect the stones to confirm their status, and attempted to inspect the site last week. She was stopped by Israeli police who are protecting the construction.
The Israel Antiquities Authority approved the construction despite archaeologists concern that precious artifacts are being destroyed. The Authority, which digs for religious artifacts across the State of Israel, has not inspected construction on Judaisms holiest site even once since the work began, despite continuous calls for the construction to be supervised and halted. English spokesman for the Israeli Police, Mickey Rosenfeld, asserts that the police stationed on the Temple Mount will not prevent the construction because the Antiquities Authority approved the dig. The Waqf denies any wrong-doing and says that the Temple Mount is in occupied territory.
Dr. Gabriel Barkai, of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount calls it an act of barbarism. They are digging in the most crucial and delicate point of the Temple Mount — of the whole country. They should be using a toothbrush, not a bulldozer. Dr Barkai identifies the area currently under excavation as the outer courts of the Second Temple, built by Herod the Great in the First Century BCE. He maintains it is where the best preservation of antiquities was anticipated, since other parts of the compound are built on exposed bedrock ( BBC News, August 28).
According to Rabbi Chaim Richman, International Director of the Temple Institute, the Waqf is intentionally digging in areas where undoubtedly the Temple once stood … For the first time since the Temples destruction, a section of the Temple Wall itself has been exposed and the Waqf under the guise of laying down electrical pipes has dug a trench, destroying the most important holy artifact ever found to date (One Jerusalem, September 2).
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, Israels Supreme Court found that the Waqf had violated Israels 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 Solomons 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 Barkai 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.
The Palestinian Arabs, including the Palestinian Authority (PA), have a long record of desecrating and destroying Jewish religious sites and denying the Jewish historical and religious connection to Jerusalem and Israel.
Statement on Jewish holy sites by PA leaders:
Yasser Arafat: That is not the Western Wall at all, but a Moslem shrine (Maariv, October. 11, 1996).
Then PA Minister of Religious Affairs, Hassan Tahboub, The Western Wall is Muslim property. It is part of the al-Aqsa Mosque. Once we control it, Jews must remain six feet away from our holy wall (November 23, 1997).
PA Ministry of Information: Thirty years of Israeli excavation has revealed Islamic holy places, Roman ruins, Armenian ruins, but no tangible evidence of anything Jewish was revealed in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Jews have implanted a biblical myth in the mind of the world, (December 12, 1997).
Walid M. Awad, Director of Foreign Publications for the PLOs Palestine Ministry of Information: Jerusalem was never a Jewish city (IMRA news agency, December. 25, 1996).
- Jarid al-Kidwa, a Palestinian historian broadcast in the PA media, has stated, The stories of the Torah and the Bible did not take place in the Land of Israel — they occurred in the Arabian peninsula, primarily in Yemen (Haaretz, July 6, 1997).
Jewish holy sites have been destroyed, vandalized or left in disrepair by the Palestinians whenever PA control has been extended, even temporarily, to localities containing them:
In September 1996, widespread Arab rioting broke out in response to false rumors circulated about alleged Jewish efforts to undermine the structure of the Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Palestinian rioters set upon and destroyed the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva at Joseph Tomb in Nablus, also killing Israeli soldiers trying to guard it. 500 Arabs also stormed Rachels Tomb, the third holiest Jewish site, firing weapons and hurling Molotov cocktails and torching the scaffolding of new construction on the site, which was saved only due to determined efforts under fire by fire-fighting units.
October 2000: During the first days of the Palestinian terrorist campaign, Josephs Tomb in Nablus was entirely destroyed by a Palestinian mob of 5,000 and its contents incinerated after the Israeli garrison guarding it was temporarily withdrawn during fighting. It has since been rebuilt by the PA — as a mosque supposedly honoring a Muslim figure. Muslims assert exclusive right to the site and Jews have been unable to re-enter it.
- October 2000: The ancient Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho, rediscovered only after the 1967 war, was completely and deliberately destroyed, though its Torah scrolls were saved. The Naaran synagogue in Jericho, which is believed to have been built in the 5th or 6th century, and which contains a mosaic floor, is now abandoned and derelict.
Moreover, Jewish worshippers at Jerusalems Western Wall have more than once been the target of stones and other projectiles from the Temple Mount in recent years, most recently in February 2007, when Palestinians rioted on the fabricated pretext that Israeli excavation work taking place nearly 100 yards from the mosques on Temple Mount for the purpose of replacing a bridge in danger of collapse were threatening the mosques. Also, sporadic gunfire is routinely directed today at Rachels Tomb, where a special fortification with guard towers has had to be constructed around it for its protection. Several soldiers guarding the site have been killed over the years.
In its letter, signed by ZOA National President Morton A. Klein, Chairman of the Board Dr. Michael Goldblatt, Chairman of Executive Committee Dr. Alan Mazurek, and Treasurer Henry Schwartz, Executive Director Stanley Kessock and Director of the ZOAs Center for Middle East Policy Dr. Daniel Mandel, the ZOA said, It is imperative for the preservation of literally the holiest site in the world to Judaism and of world significance to civilization, as well as for the long term interests of Israel, that the government put an immediate stop to the desecration and destruction of priceless Jewish antiquities on the Temple Mount. No digging with heavy machinery should ever be taking place at such a site, which surely demands, at a minimum, the usual safeguards, care and archeological supervision that would be applied in excavating any other site of even minor archeological significance. It is an act of sacrilege and archeological vandalism that irreversible destruction is proceeding at this very moment at Judaisms holiest site. We urge you most earnestly to intervene while there is still time to prevent this historic loss to Israel, the Jewish people and indeed the world.
In addition, the ZOA has made the following public statement: The ZOA urges every rabbi of every synagogue in America and around the world, and every Jewish organization, to speak out forcefully and repeatedly to urge Israels Prime Minister and all Muslims of goodwill to stop this destruction of holy and priceless Jewish artifacts under the Temple Mount where Judaisms two holy temples once existed.
The Zionist Organization of America, founded in 1897, is the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States. The ZOA works to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations, educates the American public and Congress about the dangers that Israel faces, and combats anti-Israel bias in the media and on college campuses. Its past presidents have included Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Dr. Abba Hillel Silver.