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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.

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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.

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

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Regarding the Reports about Ancient Wooden Beams being Burnt in the Temple Mount

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Earlier this week there were some reports in the media about Arabs burning “First Temple Cedars of Lebanon.”
These reports were based more on assumptions than facts. The facts are that the stack of wooden beams that was lying on the ground in the courtyard of the Golden Gate for the past few years was removed last Sunday to a new location. Meanwhile, nearby there was a fire burning in a large barrel (see video below). Some reports accused the Moslem Waqf of burning these beams in the barrel.
In reality, none of the beams were burned, but they were all removed to a new location where they are now covered to protect them from the rain. This is something that the IAA and the Jordanian officials were demanding from the Waqf in recent years. We cannot verify that the beams are now in a shelter that will adequately protect them from humidity, but indeed they are in a much better location than before.
Regarding the fire in the barrel, just modern refuse was being burned. Since 2004, a court ruling forbids removal of debris from the Temple Mount without proper archaeological supervision. The police abide by this ruling very strictly and prevent the Waqf from even removing modern debris. This is why they were burning it on the Temple Mount.
Regarding the dating of the beams, it is most probable that they should be dated to the Byzantine period and not to the First Temple Period. In 1976 dozens of these wooden beams from the Temple Mount were studied and dated using Carbon 14 and Dendrochronological methods. The results showed that only two of them, which were not cedars, were from the First Temple Period, several others were from the Second Temple, Mamluk and Ottoman periods. The vast majority of them were cedars from the Byzantine period. (See: S. Lev Yadun, “The Origin of the Cedar Beams from Al-Aqsa Mosque: Botanical, Historical and Archaeological Evidence”, Levant 24, 1992 “).
The main problem regarding the beams is that, until recently, there was no awareness as to their importance, so consequently, many of them were sold to wood merchants and others were recycled on the Temple Mount in the past several years (We will post more details about this in the coming days).