In a serious replay of past "archaeological crimes," the Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount has once again recklessly dug in areas rich with ancient artifacts, this time on the raised platform around the Dome of the Rock, and Israelis are upset that Prime Minister Ehud Barak refuses to stop it.
Barak's Office recently received reports that, for the first time in hundreds of years, excavations were being carried out on the raised portion of the Mount, in the area of the Dome of the Rock. Public figures and intellectuals from the Left and Right joined leading archaeologists in writing to the prime minister at the weekend, demanding that he take action against the construction work.
The Committee to Prevent Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount accused Barak's government of not doing enough to supervise Mount activities, even of permitting desecration. They also slammed Israeli police authorities for willfully lying to the Antiquities Authority and the public about what is happening on the sacred site.
Subsequently, at Barak's order, the police on Sunday instructed the Waqf to close a ditch, 40 meters long and 70 centimeters deep, that had been dug in the area recently, reportedly to repair a pipe. The Waqf complied, but refused to make any commitments as to future work in the area. The Mufti of Jerusalem, Ekrima Sabri, insists the Temple Mount area contains no remnants related to Jewish history, and refuses to cooperate with Israeli authorities concerning the site.
Apart from this one conciliatory order, Barak has for months denied that any unauthorized work is taking place on the Temple Mount. But Yisrael Caspi, one of the new committee's leaders, says they have irrefutable evidence that the Waqf and the Islamic Movement in Israel are carrying out new excavations. He added the contention that ancient soil being carted away is garden soil is a pile of nonsense, THE JERUSALEM POST reported.
"The prime minister doesn't know what he is talking about," said archaeologist Dr. Gabi Barkai yesterday. "Large-scale work - some of which was authorized, and most of which was not - has been carried out over the past months in the eastern section of the Temple Mount, along the eastern wall, between King Solomon's Stables and Mercy Gate, together with underground work in various other areas of the Mount."
Referring to the trench dug this past weekend, Barkai said, "This is a tremendous violation of the status quo - the ancient floor, which has not been touched for hundreds of years, has been dug up. All the earthmoving works that the Waqf has carried out until now were... a bit lower down, but yesterday for the first time they started digging up the upper level of the Temple Mount - where the Holy Temple itself stood, according to all archaeologists and rabbis."
The group says that in addition to other serious violations, a tractor fitted with a rock-breaking hammer has been used on the Temple Mount for the first time. The authors of the letter are critical of the authorities failure and they note the construction work at the Temple Mount is being done with the tacit approval of prime minister.
"It is unacceptable that in a culturally enlightened and law abiding country someone can authorize such a serious crime, of such enormous proportions, to carry on for more than a year. This is what has been going on at the Temple Mount for the past 15 months, causing unprecedented damage to the most important archaeological site in the country, and causing irreparable damage to rare archaeological evidence... at one of the rarest cultural legacies in the world."
The signatories also add that "senior security sources" told them the purpose of the work the Waqf is doing is to build more mosques on every available space of the Temple Mount, thus turning the area into one enormous mosque that would preclude any Jewish presence at the site.
An investigation by HA'ARETZ revealed that, since the beginning of the current intifada, the Antiquities Authority has not supervised activities on the Temple Mount. But in the months prior to the violence, the Waqf had severely restricted the work of archaeologists in the area, while some 1,500 tons of earth have been removed from the Temple Mount without first being examined and hauled by truck to undisclosed sites.
The report also said that the Shin Bet security service has advised the prime minister to keep an eye on Muslim activities, and that the Waqf has long-term plans to start using numerous additional areas on the Mount as mosques, thereby preventing Jews from entering the Mount.
Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein and the Antiquities Authority have also protested to Barak that the Waqf was being allowed to continue its excavation work without supervision and contrary to the law. Barak rejected these protests and authorized the Waqf to carry out paving work at the site. He also prevented the Jerusalem Municipality from sending inspectors to the Temple Mount to investigate alleged infringements of the planning and building laws by the excavations, the report stated.
MK Shaul Yahalom (National Religious Party) yesterday called for a 24-hour-a-day police and security force presence on the Temple Mount and the arrest of members of the Waqf who were "desecrating antiquities at the site in an effort to wipe out the traces of the Jewish nation from its most sacred site."
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.