Israeli high court: go ahead and dig

Here’s yet another story (h/t: Israpundit) about the probable destruction of artifacts which may have immeasurable historical and religious significance to the Jewish people by the Islamic Waqf which controls the Temple Mount:

The High Court ruled against the Israel Law Center this week in a petition aimed at stopping the destruction of Jewish artifacts dating back to the Temple era. The court ruled that the destruction cannot be stopped using private prosecution. In addition to rejecting the private case against the Islamic Wakf Authority on the Temple Mount, the High Court rejected the Israel Law Center’s demand that the attorney general be ordered to take action against the Temple Mount destruction.

It’s shocking and infuriating to think that this has been going on for years:

[A local resident] said that Waqf attempts to conceal the work but that it is not hard to see what is happening these days on the Temple Mount. “The Waqf works are constant, we see tractors going to and fro carrying earth. The work is taking place near the Dome of the Rock, exactly in the place between where our Holy Temple’s courtyard and the Altar used to stand. The Waqf claims they are doing pavement work there, or so they advertise in the news sites, but in practice they surrounded themselves in white burlap and we see there is scaffolding. I suppose that for paving works there should be no need for scaffolding.”

In 1999, the Waqf excavated an area of the Temple Mount referred to as ‘Solomon’s Stables’ to build a new mosque. They refused to permit archeaological supervision of the construction work. Here’s what happened, as described by an Israeli archaeologist to a Christian audience:

“In November 1999, the Islamic authorities carried out a huge excavation of [the part of the Temple Mount known as Solomon’s Stable],” [Prof. Gabriel Barkay of the Hebrew University] said. “They built a modern entrance to the building instead of the existing entrance, and they dug a huge pit with the help of bulldozers and 300 [dump trucks] that removed the dirt from the earthen fills of this spot.”

Barkay showed pictures of tractors demolishing structures dating to the Twelfth Century Crusades. The demolition went on without any regulation or archaeological supervision, he said. Builders at the Temple Mount took many of the ancient stones from earlier Jewish buildings and cut them down to make modern stones.

“Who knows how many inscriptions we lost in this way?” Barkay said. “Who knows how many decorated stones were defaced in this manner? The earth was saturated with ancient materials, and it was dumped in the Kidron Valley to the east of the Temple Mount.”

Many of the Jewish and Christian artifacts dating to the Crusades and to the first and second temples were covered up, destroyed or removed. In view of these developments, Barkay began to act…

“We began a project of collecting the dirt from the dumping areas. We moved the piles of dirt to a well-protected area,” he recounted. “We covered them with plastic sheets. Each pile was marked with the exact place of origin and exact depth we could estimate from which it came…”

“This effort already yielded some scores of coins,” he said. “We have coins from the 12th century, the 19th century, up to the first century B.C. We have some second-century B.C. Antonian coins. We have some Herodian coins.”

Among the other things, the team found a Christian charm bearing the image of John the Baptist with an infant Jesus and the Jordan River in the background. They found an alabaster dish from the Persian Period and an ivory comb from the Second Temple period. Though much had already been lost, the substance of what they are finding is encouraging amid the delicate and unfortunate situation.

Here is a photo of the Solomon’s Stables construction activity. Compare this to the care with which archaeologists work!

Unsupervised construction activity on the Temple Mount, 1999

Unsupervised construction activity on the Temple Mount, 1999

There is a political context. Yasser Arafat often insisted that there was no Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. For example,

Arafat made the allegation during the July 2000 Camp David talks, according to U.S. envoy Dennis Ross, who was present when Arafat spoke. Ross has now revealed: “He did offer one new idea, which was that the Temple didn’t exist in Jerusalem, that it was in Nablus.” (Jerusalem Post, May 15, 2002)

Here is a snippet from a 2001 interview with the Palestinian Authority-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, ‘Ikrima Sabri:

Sabri: There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish History. Our right, on the other hand, is very clear. This place belongs to us for 1500 years. Even when it was conquered by the Crusaders, it remained Al-Aqsa, and we got it back soon afterwards. The Jews do not even know exactly where their temple stood. Therefore, we do not accept that they have any rights, underneath the surface or above it.

Die Welt: It is agreed among archeologists that the Wailing-Wall is part of the foundation of Herod’s temple. The Bible and other antique sources report about this place in detail. Why can’t you respect the Jewish connection to this place?

Sabri: It is the art of the Jews to deceive the world. But they can’t do it to us. There is not a single stone in the Wailing-Wall relating to Jewish History. The Jews cannot legitimately claim this wall, neither religiously nor historically. The Committee of the League of Nations recommended in 1930, to allow the Jews to pray there, in order to keep them quiet. But by no means did it acknowledge that the wall belongs to them.

It’s understandable that Israelis are certain that one of the objectives of the Waqf is to deliberately erase evidence of Jewish provenance by destroying artifacts.

The 1967 decision to leave the control of the Temple Mount in the hands of the Waqf surprised even the Arabs, who assumed that the Israeli conquest of the area was, er, a conquest. Some think that this was the biggest mistake an Israeli government has made since 1948 (another candidate is the decision to accept Arafat’s PLO as the ‘legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’ in the Oslo negotiations).

There is a reason that the Waqf is allowed to get away with doing construction work in an area of such sensitivity without supervision: in a word, fear. Fear of ‘Muslim rage’, easily turned on by the Waqf and Palestinian religious leaders, as illustrated by the riots surrounding the Israeli attempt to repair the damaged Mughrabi gate.

Israel’s supreme court has apparently decided to continue the policy, which amounts to a de facto abdication of sovereignty over the heart of Jerusalem and the most important site in Judaism.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “Israeli high court: go ahead and dig”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Instinctively I feel an outrage at the Court’s decision. Still I would have liked to see in this piece some presentation or even summary of their reasons for their decision.

  2. Grandma says:

    I watched a documentary about an archeologist (I think he was from Italy) in Iran.
    If a foreign archeologist is allowed to dig, he is surrounded by armed guards. If he discovers anything to do with the mere presence of the Israelites, the artifact is confisgated, destroyed, and if the archeologist speaks of it or trys to take a picture of it, he is immediately expelled from the country and not allowed back in. The Arabs have no interest in the history of any ancient peoples, except themselves. They have proven that over and over again. How sad.