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.
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.
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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