JERUSALEM – Prominent archaeologists, some Jewish leaders and former Israeli politicians are petitioning Israel’s supreme court to immediately halt a dig Islamic authorities are conducting on the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest site – that is said to be destroying antiquities and what archaeologists believe is a wall from the Second Jewish Temple.
Sections of the petition were based on WND’s recent coverage of the Temple Mount controversy.
Possible carved stone from Jewish Temple era exposed by digging at Temple Mount in Jerusalem
The Israeli government has not stopped Islamic authorities from blasting a massive trench on the Mount and has barred archaeologists from inspecting the Temple-era wall, believed to be from the outer courtyard of the Second Temple.
The wall reportedly has been pulverized by bulldozers operated by the Waqf, the Mount’s Muslim custodians. If verified, the wall would be the most significant Jewish Temple find in history.
Yesterday’s court petition against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, other cabinet ministers and Israel’s Antiquities Authority, explains Second Temple courtyards and artifacts are located within a few feet of ground level. It maintains the Waqf dig ? a trench 1,300 feet long and five feet deep ? has destroyed or damaged priceless archaeological artifacts from the first and second Temple periods.
States the petition: “The excavations were carried out in an area where the bedrock is sometimes at a depth of only half a meter. Therefore, massive digging to a depth of a meter and a half entails damage to ground layers, some of which may have been in place since the first Temple stood there 3,000 years ago. Excavating with heavy equipment and tractors severely damaged the ground and directly caused the destruction of ancient stones and other artifacts.”
The petitioners charged the Israeli government and its agencies, including the Antiquities Authority, are failing to meet their legal obligations to protect the antiquities of the Temple Mount.
The Antiquities Authority has not halted the dig and has not inspected the site. The Waqf has continued using bulldozers to blast away at the trench containing the wall and steadfastly has denied it is destroying any antiquities.
The petition was signed by Members of the Committee to Prevent the Destruction of Temple Mount Antiquities, including prominent archaeologists Eilat Mazar, Ephraim Stern, Amihay Mazar, Ehud Netzer, Israel Finkelstein, Moshe Kochavi, and Gabriel Barkai; Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and retired Israel Defense Forces generals Zvi Zamir, Yitzhak Hofi and Giora Eiland.
Last month, the Waqf was given permission by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to use bulldozers and other heavy equipment to dig a massive trench it claims is necessary to replace electrical cables outside mosques on the site. The dig, which extends to most of the periphery of the Mount, is being protected by the Israeli police and is supposed to be supervised by the Israeli government’s Antiquities Authority.
Earlier this month, after bulldozers dug a trench 1,300 feet long and five feet deep, the Muslim diggers came across a wall Israeli archaeologists believe may be remains of an area of the Second Jewish Temple known as the woman’s courtyard.
WND last week obtained a photograph of the massive Waqf trench. In view in the picture are concrete slabs broken by Waqf bulldozers and a chopped up carved stone believed to be of Jewish Temple-era antiquity.
Third-generation Temple Mount archaeologist Eilat Mazar analyzed the photo and said the damaged stone displays elements of the second Temple era and might be part of the Jewish Temple wall Israeli archaeologists charge the Waqf has been attempting to destroy. She said in order to certify the stone in the photo, she would need to personally inspect it.
Mazar is also a fellow at Israel’s Shalem Center and member of the Public Committee for Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on Temple Mount. Her much-discussed discovery in the City of David, a neighborhood just south of Jerusalem’s Old City Walls, is a massive building dating to the 10th century B.C. It is believed to be the remains of the palace of biblical King David, the second leader of a united kingdom of Israel, who ruled from around 1005 to 965 B.C.
Israel, though, is blocking leading archeologists from surveying the massive damage Islamic authorities are accused of causing to what may be the outer wall of the Second Jewish Temple.
“The Antiquities Authority tells us to coordinate with the police. The police send us back to the Antiquities Authority,” said Mazar.
The Antiquities Authority did not return repeated requests for comment.
“It’s crucial this wall is inspected,” the archaeologist said. “The Temple Mount ground level is only slightly above the original Temple Mount platform, meaning anything found is likely from the Temple itself.”
Muslims bar WND from Temple dig
Last Thusday, the Muslim Waqf custodians of the Temple Mount barred WND from inspecting and filming their massive trench.
The confrontation was captured on video by InfoLive.tv, a new, Internet-based television network broadcasting in four languages.
WND and the InfoLive.tv camera crew ascended the Mount to obtain footage of the trench, but Waqf guards backed up by the Israeli police stopped the news agencies from approaching open sections of the trench. The guards told WND only closed areas of the trench could be filmed. Sections of the massive trench were being closed up with dirt today before archeologists were able to inspect the site.
After persisting, one Waqf guard asked WND to shut off the camera and vacate the Temple Mount.
Mazar and other top archaeologists also recently attempted to inspect the Waqf trench. Two weeks ago they ascended the Mount to hold a news conference and inspect the site without government permission, but they were blocked from the trench by the Israeli police.
“It is unconscionable that the Israeli government is permitting the Waqf to use heavy equipment to chop away at the most important archaeological site in the country without supervision,” Mazar said.
“The Israeli government is actively blocking us from inspecting the site and what may be a monumental find and is doing nothing while the Waqf destroys artifacts at Judaism’s holiest site,” she said.
Rabbi Chaim Richman, director of Israel’s Temple Institute, was among those on the Mount last month with Mazar. He told WND he attempted to take pictures of the damage the bulldozers are allegedly wrecking on the wall, but his digital camera was confiscated by Israeli police at the direction of Waqf officials.
“If Israel was building a shopping mall and they found what may be an ancient Buddhist structure, the government would stop the construction and have archaeologists go over the area with a fine tooth comb. Here, the holiest site in Judaism is being damaged, a Temple wall was found, and Israel is actively blocking experts from inspecting the site while allowing the destruction to continue,” Richman said.
Richman charged the Waqf was “trying to erase Jewish vestiges from the Temple Mount.”
Muslim custodians have history of destroying Temple artifacts
The last time the Waqf conducted a large dig on the Temple Mount ? during construction 10 years ago of a massive mosque at an area referred to as Solomon’s Stables ? the Wafq reportedly disposed truckloads of dirt containing Jewish artifacts from the First and Second Temple periods.
After media reported the disposals, Israeli authorities froze the construction permit given to the Wafq, and the dirt was transferred to Israeli archaeologists for analysis. The Israeli authorities found scores of Jewish Temple relics in the nearly disposed dirt, including coins with Hebrew writing referencing the Temple, part of a Hasmonean lamp, several other Second Temple lamps, Temple-period pottery with Jewish markings, a marble pillar shaft and other Temple period artifacts. The Waqf was widely accused of attempting to hide evidence of the existence of the Jewish Temples.
Temples ‘never existed’
Most Palestinian leaders routinely deny well-documented Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.
Speaking to WND in a recent interview, Waqf official and chief Palestinian Justice Taysir Tamimi claimed the Jewish Temples “never existed.”
“About these so-called two Temples, they never existed, certainly not at the Haram Al- Sharif (Temple Mount),” said Tamimi, who is considered the second most important Palestinian cleric after Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
“Israel started since 1967 making archaeological digs to show Jewish signs to prove the relationship between Judaism and the city, and they found nothing. There is no Jewish connection to Israel before the Jews invaded in the 1880s,” said Tamimi.
The Palestinian cleric denied the validity of dozens of digs verified by experts worldwide revealing Jewish artifacts from the First and Second Temples, tunnels that snake under the Temple Mount and more than 100 ritual immersion pools believed to have been used by Jewish priests to cleanse themselves before services. The cleansing process is detailed in the Torah.
Asked about the Western Wall, Tamimi said the structure was a tying post for Muhammad’s horse and that it is part of the Al Aqsa Mosque, even though the wall predates the mosque by more than 1,000 years.
“The Western Wall is the western wall of the Al Aqsa Mosque. It’s where Prophet Muhammad tied his animal which took him from Mecca to Jerusalem to receive the revelations of Allah.”
The Palestinian media also regularly claim the Jewish Temples never existed.
Judaism’s holiest site
While the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, Muslims say it is their third holiest site.
The First Jewish Temple was built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Second Temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. It was expanded by King Herod in 19 B.C. shortly before the birth of Jesus. That temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in A.D. 70. Each temple stood for a period of about four centuries.
The Jewish Temple was the center of religious Jewish worship. It housed the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark of the Covenant and was said to be the area upon which God’s “presence” dwelt. The Dome of the Rock now sits on the site and the Al Aqsa Mosque is adjacent.
The temple served as the primary location for the offering of sacrifices and was the main gathering place in Israel during Jewish holidays.
The Temple Mount compound has remained a focal point for Jewish services over the millennia. Prayers for a return to Jerusalem have been uttered by Jews since the Second Temple was destroyed, according to Jewish tradition. Jews worldwide pray facing toward the Western Wall, a portion of an outer courtyard of the Temple left intact.
The Al Aqsa Mosque was constructed around A.D. 709 to serve as a shrine near another shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which was built by an Islamic caliph. Al Aqsa was meant to mark where Muslims came to believe Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ascended to heaven.
Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Quran. Islamic tradition states Muhammad took a journey in a single night from “a sacred mosque” ? believed to be in Mecca in southern Saudi Arabia ? to “the farthest mosque” and from a rock there ascended to heaven. The farthest mosque later became associated with Jerusalem.
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