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JERUSALEM – In an unprecedented legal move, Israeli citizens this week filed a criminal lawsuit against the Muslim custodians of Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, alleging the Muslim trust destroyed Jewish antiquities, including a possible wall from the Second Jewish Temple.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government this summer allowed the Mount’s Waqf Islamic custodians to use bulldozers and other heavy equipment to dig a massive trench on the Temple Mount which the Waqf claimed was necessary to replace electrical cables outside mosques on the site.
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, stress Israeli experts, who assert the area should be excavated slowly and carefully by hand.
In September, after bulldozers dug a trench 1,300 feet long and five feet deep, the Muslim diggers reportedly 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, however, blocked leading archeologists from surveying the massive damage Islamic authorities are accused of causing to the purported wall.
According to top archaeologists, the Waqf dig resulted in the destruction of scores of Temple-era artifacts. At one point during the dig, 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.
Eilat Mazar, a leading Temple Mount archaeologist, confirmed the slabs in the photo were antiquities with 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 this week, 150 Israeli citizens filed a criminal complaint against Waqf officials, utilizing a section of the country’s penal code that allows private citizens to bring criminal suits against an individual or group that did wrong, including in cases in which the defendant is accused of destroying property.
“The Temple Mount is the property of Jewish nation and has been for thousands of years,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the lead council for the lawsuit, told WND.
“What the Waqf did was clearly destroying property of the Jewish people by throwing away and chopping through artifacts; therefore the Jewish people have a right to indict Wafq officials,” said Nitsana, director of the Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Center.
The suit has been passed to Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who will consider whether to immediately file legal charges against the Waqf. If Mazuz declines, the Supreme Court will hear the case and then can decide whether to recommend criminal charges. Charges can result in prison time for Wafq leaders, explained Darshan-Leitner.
“The Waqf leaders belong in prison, and since Israel’s government is refusing to protect Jewish heritage and property, we will prosecute the WAQF ourselves,” she said. “This legal action is a moral obligation, not only for the Jewish people, but also for the Christian community, which has significant interests in safeguarding the Temple Mount as well.”
History of destruction
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,” he said. “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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