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Update: Waqf Uses Ramadan to Violate Antiquities Law

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As we explained in our last post, during the final week of Ramadan, the Muslim Waqf made use of the closure of the Temple Mount to all non-Muslims, and limited police presence, to move the remaining mounds of soil that were originally excavated, along with the material we have been sifting, in 1999 and the early 2000s. This material contains a huge amount of artifacts from all periods of the history of the Temple Mount, including the First and Second Temple periods. This material SHOULD be sifted by the Temple Mount Sifting Project, and legally, we are the ones with the rights to move, sift/excavate, study, and publish this material. Yet again, illegally, the Waqf, with dozens of volunteers and workers, carried out excavation work, earth and stone clearance on the Temple Mount.

Section of the dirt mound that was “bitten” by excavation

According to the video we received last week, there was illegal movement of soil, stones, and artifacts from the large dirt mounds on the Eastern side of the Temple Mount. Stones were collected and used to build terraces and little walls to outline new walkways. According to Arnon Segal of Makor Rishon, the Waqf also erected a monument in memory of the Gazan paramedic, Razan al Najar, who was killed two weeks ago in the clashes along the Gaza border.

As we mentioned in our previous post, there is a supreme court ruling that prevents these mounds from being removed without archaeological supervision. Muslim authorities object to any archaeological work on the Temple Mount, so since 2004 no debris has been removed from the Temple Mount, and all material from renovations and other work has been gathered in these mounds.

This morning, our director Zachi Dvira went up to the Temple Mount to assess the damage.

The good news, if there is any, is that for most of the mounds of soil, only the outer layers seem to be damaged. We have evidence that the workers scraped the sides of the mounds and sorted finds, including some larger architectural fragments and floor tiles.

The bad news is that there are four places where the Waqf not only “cleaned” the mounds on the surface, but yet again dug into the interior of them. This is clearly a show of who is in control, and a message from the Waqf to the world that they don’t need permission from Israel to do anything on the Temple Mount, and that no one can stop them. The video from last week also showed ancient slabs being sorted and removed from the mounds. Who knows what else was discovered, and what else we won’t be able to study from this unsupervised work.

Part of a large stack of architectural marble stones from the Byzantine and Early Moslem period. (taken in 2012: Zachi Dvira)

Since the early 2000’s, near the Golden Gate, there was also a large heap of architectural fragments (mainly made of marble) that came from the dismantling of all sorts of ancient structures on the Temple Mount during past renovations. Many of these architectural fragments were probably dismantled in renovations 100 years ago, kept in storage, and then discarded to the trash heap in the 1990s. While looking at this heap in 2013, we discovered Early Islamic period inscriptions, Second Temple floor tiles, Byzantine church chancel screens, and other important artifacts. We published it and no one did anything about it. Today’s visit, and another conducted several months ago, revealed that 3/4 of that material is missing. Where all of this archaeological material is now is a complete guess. We fear that these important artifacts have been lost due to looting. None have yet been turned over to archaeologists.

We condemn the use of Ramadan and the lack of Jews and Israelis on the Temple Mount to obfuscate the goings on of the Waqf. For years, the Israeli Police have had some success in preventing work in these piles of soil. In the past, when attempts were made to remove these mounds of soil, we were also alerted to the attempt in time to save the mounds so that they can be properly and legally excavated and studied.

The police released a statement saying that they will make sure that the earth that was removed is returned to its place. We are grateful to the police for making such a strong statement and upholding the law. However, while this is great in theory, the looted artifacts will never be returned, and it is impossible for the soil to be replaced perfectly. The changes in the earth mounds will disrupt our ability to separate the sources of the debris during their eventual excavation. We had hoped to conduct a controlled removal of the soil and study the separate sources of the debris from which these piles are composed. This could lead us to a more accurate understanding of the original provenance of all of our artifacts and help us reconstruct what the Temple Mount looked like, and how it was used, in different periods.

In 2018, this should not be a problem. Taking advantage of the limited police, and ban of all non-Muslims from the Temple Mount because of Ramadan, these archaeologically rich mounds of earth have been irreconcilably damaged. This is a clear violation of the law, a violation of basic morality and respect, and an absolute destruction of the heritage of Jews as well as Christians and Muslims.  This constitutes a decade’s worth of regression in the level of enforcement of the antiquities law on the Temple Mount and needs to go viral so that the world can see what the real status quo is on the Temple Mount.

Please share this information and communicate it to the media and government officials. Make this story go viral.

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More Archaeological Destruction on the Temple Mount

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More Archaeological Destruction on the Temple Mount and Damage to Dirt that should be Sifted in the Temple Mount Sifting Project was Disturbed

A very serious incident occurred in the last few days on the Temple Mount. In the eastern part of the Temple Mount, there are mounds of earth from various illegal excavations carried out by the Waqf on the Temple Mount in the early 2000s. This is the latest of many attempts to remove this earth. The Waqf attempted to remove the mounds from the Temple Mount in 2004, in coordination with the police and Israel Antiquities Authority, but without supervision. Fortunately this attempt was forestalled by a petition to the High Court of Justice filed by Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount. The court ruled that the earth can only be removed under archaeological supervision and with coordination with the Committee.

It should also be noted that according to an internal report written by the Israel Antiquities Authority in 2016, the excavation permit, given to us allowing us to sift the earth that was removed from the Temple Mount at the end of 1999 and at the beginning of 2004, also applies to these mounds that were just disturbed.

A controlled removal of these mounds would enable extrapolation of the separate sources of the debris from which these mounds are composed. Such a dig could provide us with much more accurate information than we currently have in studying the findings from sifting the soil that was dumped into the Kidron Valley in 1999. The information that could emerge from sifting these mounds would complement the information we currently possess and would enable us to draw a clearer, larger picture.

For years, the Israeli Police have had some success in preventing work in these mounds of soil and debris. In 2013 there was an attempt to remove them by truck and tractor on the false grounds that only park waste was removed, but thanks to the media, we were able to stop the works.

Now, during the last days of the month of Ramadan, when the Temple Mount is closed to non-Muslim visitors and police presence is limited, over a thousand people carried out excavation work, stone clearance, and the creation of terraces in these piles of earth!

This is a clear violation of the High Court’s order. This constitutes a decade’s worth of regression in the level of enforcement of the antiquities law on the Temple Mount.

The changes in the earth mounds will disrupt the ability to separate the sources of the debris during their eventual removal and archaeological excavation. Furthermore, during the course of such a manual excavation as just occurred, many archeological artifacts are routinely discovered. It is highly doubtful that any such items will reach the hands of archaeologists.

* Please share this information and communicate it to the media and government officials. This is important and needs to go viral.

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Top 10 Topics from 5777

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I can’t believe that another year has passed. As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I want to take a minute to look back at the crazy year we have had. To be honest, we have had a lot of ups and downs, but through it all, our biggest strength has been our supporters. Your generosity and messages of encouragement have helped us to continue our important work and have helped us climb those mountains of bad news that have faced us this past year. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

So let’s take a look at the past year! I went through our English Facebook Page (follow us if you haven’t already!) and tallied up the posts that made the most impact: most likes, shares, views, and comments. From finds, to videos, to urgent appeals for support, you have stood by us and shared this with us.

10. Early Islamic Artifacts

This post talked about some Early Islamic Period artifacts and linked to our blog post about the possible destruction layer we uncovered.

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Golden Mosaics from the Dome of the Rock

9. Evidence of the Greeks on the Temple Mount

This post celebrated the holiday of Channukkah and talked about Greek finds on the Temple Mount including a coin with the face of Antiochus Epiphanes IV who is the villain of the Channukkah story. Check out the whole story HERE.

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Greek coin with the face of King Antiochus Epiphanes IV

8. Archaeologists Restore Temple Mount Flooring from Waqf’s Trash

This was an article about our reconstructed Second Temple floor patterns published by Haaretz. Our floors have always been a popular topic. 🙂 Here is a link to the whole article: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/1.740548

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7. Lost and Found: A modern day bracelet

We found a modern day 10K gold bracelet and are (still) trying to find the owner. It has an Israeli girl’s name written in English letters. It is very small and may have belonged to a child. It was lost on the Temple Mount before 1999. Share the story and help us find the owner!

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6. Our video asking you to “Join Us” in our Annual Appeal.

Thank you to everyone who liked, shared, and donated in our Annual Appeal. Knowing that we have consistent supporters really makes us feel like you are part of our Sifting Project Family. Don’t forget, it’s an annual appeal so you will be hearing from me again ;).

5. Six-Day War Artifacts in the Temple Mount Soil.

Machine gun magazines, bullets, Jordanian coins, and uniform badges were found in sifting the soil from the Temple Mount. The artifacts tell the story of the unification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. Check out the whole article in the Times of Israel and watch the video we put together in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Unification of Jerusalem.

4. Evidence of the Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount

Last October, UNESCO adopted a biased and political resolution that disregarded Judaism’s historic connection to the Temple Mount, cast doubts regarding the Jewish connection to the Western Wall, and protested against the Israel Antiquities Authority’s attempts to supervise construction work on and around the Temple Mount in order to preserve the antiquities and other archaeological data. In response to this resolution, we wrote a blog post that outlined a lot of the archaeological evidence that we have of the Jewish temples on the Temple Mount. This was widely shared and is one of the most important posts we have written. Please read and share because the Temple Denial Movement is real and we have to know how to respond to it with educated answers. Click here for the full text of the post.

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Artifacts from the First and Second Temples

3. The Most Powerful Video about UNESCO and the Temple Denial Movement

This video was put out by Channel 2 News here in Israel. Seen in Hebrew by more than 1 MILLION people on Facebook alone, we added English subtitles so that it could be shared with people around the world. It is important to respect the narratives of people today, but this needs to be in addition to, and not at the expense of, real history. It is also easier to find common ground when relating to each other through facts and history than solely through hard-won respect for beliefs and narratives. Please watch and share.

2. Our Temple Mount Tour videos

Over the past few weeks, we have posted 11 (so far) videos touring the Temple Mount with Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira and talking about different features on the Temple Mount. All of these videos have been very popular and we promise to keep making them. Here is a link to the whole playlist on YouTube.

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1. Closing the Sifting Project

When we were forced to stop sifting the Temple Mount material this past April, we were all in shock. How were we going to move forward? How were we going to continue our research? We turned to you and let you know about the situation. You shared the video hundreds of times and it reached more than 34,000 people. We were able to raise over 200,000 shekels and because of that we were able to continue our research this year while we try to come up with the funding to resume the sifting. We cannot thank you enough for your support. At our darkest hour, you made such a difference to us and to our project. Government help takes a long time to initiate and we aren’t in the clear yet, but knowing that we can count on you makes all the difference.

Seeking Good in Temple Mount Terror Tragedy: Opportunity for Archaeological Discovery?

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Jerusalem Day and the Six-Day War

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 “The Temple Mount is in our Hands!”

Machine gun magazines, bullets, Jordanian coins, and uniform badges were found in sifting the soil from the Temple Mount. The artifacts tell the story of the unification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

Broadcasted on the army radio network, nothing is more symbolic of the unification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War than the immortal words of Colonel Mordechai “Motta” Gur, commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, as they conquered the Old City, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

IMG_3560We at the Temple Mount Sifting Project have this revelation daily as we work with soil and artifacts from the Temple Mount found by our project. The Temple Mount is literally in our hands.

As you know, our project is special in part because of the wide range of history it can help explain. Just as we have tangible artifacts from the Temple Mount’s ancient history, from the time of the First Temple’s destruction by the Babylonians, the Hasmonean wars, the Great Jewish Revolt which led to the destruction of the Second Temple, and the Crusader-Muslim battles, we have direct evidence of the Jordanian presence on the Temple Mount, and for the Six-Day War battles 50 years ago.

Yesterday, on Jerusalem Day celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, we had a booth in the Old City and displayed some of our special artifacts including our Opus Sectile floors, arrowheads, and artifacts from the Six-Day War. We had hundreds of people stop and learn about these artifacts as well as donate to our campaign to raise the funding necessary to continue our research. If you would like to support our research, please visit www.half-shekel.org or contact development@tmsifting.org for more information.

Some major news media covered the following artifacts in articles published yesterday. Here is a great one from The Times of Israel. It was also covered by The Jewish Press and on many Hebrew news sites.

Six-Day War – an Incredible Story

Among the artifacts that we have recovered from the Temple Mount are tens of items which may be related to the IDF’s arrival at the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War. Although these are not ancient archaeological artifacts, they have great historic significance and they can teach us about our recent history. It is usually thought that no battle occurred on the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War. The ammunition that we have found caused us to raised doubts regarding this premise and “dig” deeper into the details of the battle of Jerusalem during that time.

The IDF forces entered the Old City and the Temple Mount through the Lion’s Gate on Wednesday, June 7th 1967. The Jordanian forces had fled the city early in the morning, but some resistance pockets and sniper positions remained on the Temple Mount and the Old City. The previous day, the Jordanian military was positioned on the Eastern city wall, of which the Temple Mount’s Eastern wall is a significant part. On the night of June 6th, a special commando unit and some tanks were ordered to capture the Mount of Olives. They mistakenly lost their way, and instead of reaching the road towards the Augusta Victoria building, they reached the Kidron Bridge to the Gethsemane Church. The bridge’s location left them completely open to massive fire from the Jordanian positions on the wall above, killing 5 soldiers. During the rescue attempts, the IDF soldiers on the bridge fired back at the Jordanian positions. The story of this engagement is described well by Moshe Natan in his book, “The War for Jerusalem.”

In order to better understand our artifacts, we spoke with Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun who was a part of the paratroopers force that entered the city through the Lion’s Gate. He said, “Following the Kidron Bridge battle, the commander of the Jordanian battalion in the Old City asked permission to evacuate the Old City since he realized that the IDF was encircling it. The Egyptian General of the Eastern front did not understand the symbolic significance of the Old City and the Holy Sites [for Jordan] and allowed the retreat. The Jordanians fled the city [on June 7th] early in the morning. The IDF did not know that, and at 7am bombarded the city walls with artillery fire in order to make the Jordanian soldiers withdraw from the walls. One artillery shell that missed the target killed three of our soldiers […] From the minaret near the Gate of the Tribes, a Jordanian soldier shot at us, but we managed to take him down before he could hit one of our men. As we entered the gate into the Temple Mount, paratroopers shot bursts of fire into the air to intimidate [the Jordanians], but Motta Gur (the commander of the brigade) immediately gave his famous order, “Cease Fire! All forces cease fire! A holy place, do not shoot. The Temple Mount is in our hands.””

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We also recovered a 25 round magazine of an Israeli made Uzi sub-machine gun, which served as the personal weapon of every IDF commander. There are also several 9 mm bullets – the Uzi’s ammunition. A number of 9 mm bullet casings were found as well. One casing, which was produced abroad, has a manufacture date of 1956. Another 9 mm casing was manufactured in 1952 and has the Hebrew letters “MIT,” which is an acronym for the State of Israel, Military Industry. These bullets and casings attest to the fact that during the Six-Day War antiquated ammunition was used. In addition, a 7.62 mm blank cartridge with a headstamp date of 1957 was found. This round was probably used for firing an anti-tank grenade from a Belgian made Fal or “FN” rifle which was commonly in service of the IDF during this period. Among the ammunition that was found were two 50-caliber projectiles probably fired from a Browning heavy machine gun. The bullet tips are warped indicating that they hit a hard surface. It is likely that these bullets originated in the return fire of the IDF soldiers pinned down on the Kidron Bridge shooting at the Jordanians positioned on the Eastern wall of the Temple Mount.

Yaakov Goldfine, a soldier who was a sniper in the Jerusalem Brigade and entered the city from the Dung Gate, gave us a further explanation about the weapons used during the war. “We were using an English Enfield rifle which we upgraded to be used as a sniper rifle. For backup, we had the Belgian FN which was used by the infantry soldiers. […] I entered the gate and ascended the Temple Mount. It was easy to see how the Jordanians used the Temple Mount as a military fortification. In spite of that, our orders were not to shoot at the Old City with heavy weaponry or bomb it from the air. The neutralization of the Jordanian positions was done by the infantry forces, and it cost us losses.”

Among the coins discovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project are four corrugated aluminum Agora coins. These are Israeli coins minted in 1967 and 1968 and which must have fallen out of the pockets of IDF soldiers or the first Israeli visitors who arrived at the Temple Mount following the Six-Day War.

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Furthermore, the sifting yielded nearly forty Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom coins. Almost all the coins were minted prior to the Six-Day War, when the area was under Jordanian control from 1948-1967.

Though Israel is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, and Gur’s famous statement is being remembered and widely shared, the Temple Mount itself has a more complex reality. The first Jordanian coin from the sifting was discovered on June 6, 2005, the 38th anniversary of Jerusalem’s unification. This coin was minted in 1991, and probably arrived at the Temple Mount in the pocket of a Muslim worshipper or a Waqf employee who worked on the Temple Mount. The Jordanian Dinar (and its denomination –piasters) has remained a legal currency in the West Bank, continuing from 1967 until today.

Two small metal badges depicting a Jordanian flag were also discovered in the sifting and may have been pinned to Jordanian army uniforms. The post-war Jordanian artifacts reflect the complex political situation on the Temple Mount. Officially, the State of Israel holds sovereignty over the area, but the state has de facto given some authority to the Jordanian Kingdom via the Islamic Waqf.

It is amazing how our artifacts really express these complex situations and these moments in time. It is research like this that makes me truly love archaeology and the different ways that it can be used to understand our past. This research falls into a somewhat new category of archaeology known as “Modern Conflict Archaeology” which takes an interdisciplinary approach to try and understand the artifacts created during modern conflict. (Definitely check out the above website, because it is a truly fascinating new approach to archaeology.)

To support more research like this, go to www.half-shekel.org or contact development@tmsifting.org for more information.

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