JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the government agency here charged with overseeing excavations may have violated Israeli law when they permitted Islamic authorities to conduct a massive dig on the Temple Mount using a bulldozer, WND has learned.
The Waqf, the Muslim custodians of the Temple Mount, are accused of destroying Temple Mount antiquities, including a possible wall from the Second Jewish Temple.
Israel’s Antiquities Authority agreed to allow bulldozers and other heavy equipment to dig a massive trench on the Temple Mount the Waqf claimed was necessary to replace electrical cables outside mosques on the site. The dig, which extended to most of the periphery of the Mount, was protected by the Israeli police and was supposed to be supervised by the Israeli government’s Antiquities Authority.
According to Israeli and Palestinian diplomatic sources, the directive to allow the dig originated from Olmert’s office.
Allowing the use of bulldozers at any sensitive archaeological site is extremely unusual, particularly at the Temple Mount, which experts say contains sealed layers of artifacts as shallow as two to three feet below the surface. The Mount has never been properly excavated. Heavy equipment could easily damage any existing artifacts, say experts, who assert the area should be excavated slowly and carefully by hand.
According to informed diplomatic sources, the Antiquities Authority did not grant the Waqf any official permit or written document allowing the Muslim custodians to dig on the Mount.
The sources said all agreements with the Wafq were oral, contravening Israeli law.
Further, according to Knesset regulations, any excavation on the Temple Mount requires the approval of a Knesset committee established in 2000 specifically to oversee digs on the sensitive Mount site.
But the committee was not consulted prior to the Waqf dig.
The Antiquities Authority and its director-general, Shmuel Dorfman, admitted it didn’t seek the required Knesset approval before allowing the Waqf to dig. He claimed Olmert’s office was not involved in the decision.
Dorfman further claimed no damage was done to any Temple antiquities during the dig, a statement dismissed as “absurd” by leading Mount archaeologists here.
“”The [Israeli government] Antiquities Authority clearly and obviously allowed the destruction of antiquities,” charged third-generation Temple Mount archaeologist Eilat Mazar, speaking to WND. “What they did is the exact opposite of any proper archaeological supervision. Allowing a bulldozer to dig on the Mount is scandalous.”
Echoing Mazar’s comments, prominent Temple Mount archaeologist Gabriel Barkai told the Jerusalem Post: “The use of a bulldozer was like putting an elephant in a china shop. In such a sensitive spot, you cannot allow workers to use bulldozers. They should have dug by hand using special brushes and recorded every find scrupulously. I believe that serious damage was caused the moment they removed the earth, which was saturated with archeological findings.”
Muslims caught red handed
In September, 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.
Israel, though, blocked leading archeologists from surveying the massive damage Islamic authorities are accused of causing to the purported wall. It refused to allow up Mazar and other prominent archaeologists during many attempts by the experts to inspect the Muslim dig.
In September, WND obtained a photo of the Waqf trench. In view in the picture, obtained in conjunction with Israel’s Temple Institute, are concrete slabs broken by Waqf bulldozers and what appears to be a chopped up carved stone from Jewish Temple-era antiquity.
Mazar confirmed the slabs were antiquity evidencing Temple-era attributes. She said inspection of the slabs was required to verify its authenticity.
The Waqf repeatedly denied it found or destroyed any Temple artifacts.
But on Sunday the Antiquities Authority released antiquities discovered by its archaeologists during what it said was an excavation coordinated during the Waqf dig. The released discoveries included fragments of bowl rims, bases and body shards, the base of a juglet used for the ladling of oil, the handle of a small juglet and the rim of a storage jar.
Mazar and other leading archaeologists speaking to WND today said they were “dumbfounded” the Antiquities Authority claimed any excavation was done during the Islamic dig.
“Perhaps finds were discovered in between the teeth of the Waqf bulldozers, but it’s ridiculous to say the Antiquities Authority supervised or conducted any proper dig,” said Mazar of Hebrew University. “No proper excavation is conducted with bulldozers. No one saw or reported any excavation. How can an excavation be conducted in secret? Such work is a big job. They are trying to hide their failure to stop the Islamic destruction.”
Mazar is also a fellow at Israel’s Shalem Center and a 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.
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.
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