The Temple Mount, Dismounted
In June 1967, Israeli paratroopers entered Jerusalem's Old City after Israel's miraculous victory in the Six-Day War. The Old City had been under Jordanian control for nineteen years, an era of wanton destruction of synagogues and of ethnic cleansing of all Jews from the Old City. The paratroopers made their prayerful way to the Temple Mount, the holiest piece of ground in all Judaism, site of the First and Second Great Temples and, by tradition, the ark itself. Three paratroopers climbed to the top of the Dome of The Rock (built atop the former Second Temple) and unfurled the Israeli flag for the first time. Four hours later, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ordered the flag taken down. Then, in one of the most incomprehensible acts in Jewish history, Dayan handed over the entire Temple Mount to the Muslims, to be administered by the Waqf, the Jordanian Muslim religious trust. And thus it remains.
Dayan told his critics that he committed this act of ignominy to protect against the building of a Third Temple, which pious Jews indeed pray for. Of course, the likelihood of either the Messiah or the Third Temple arising would seem to be microscopically tiny at this time, a fact that doesn't stop Muslim clerics from expressing their suspicion that "the Israeli occupation and its executive arms are making increasing efforts...to hasten the building of the alleged third Temple in place of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque...." (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 4, 2011)
Meanwhile, and not surprisingly, in the Muslim grand scheme to erase Jews from all of Jerusalem, since 1967 things have steadily gotten worse at the Mount. Jews are allowed only limited access to the Mount, and are strictly forbidden to pray there. If a Jew is seen so much as moving his lips while there, he runs the risk of being attacked, pelted with rocks and other missiles, and will very likely be arrested -- by the Israeli police. In spite of constant Israeli assistance, however, just last week the Jordanian Information Minister demanded the removal of the police station and its surveillance cameras.
Indeed, tensions have heightened lately, to the point that the Mount has become a "hotbed of clashes," according to Israel National News. (Perhaps a result of John Kerry's talk of a new intifada.) One cleric, Sheikh Ra'ed Salah, was arrested "after urging Muslims to block Jews from ascending the Temple Mount 'with their bodies.'" Even the projected closing of the Mugrabi Bridge for reasons of safety is considered religious warfare: Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said last week that the Israeli move "shows their determination to Judaize Jerusalem and to take over the city's Muslim holy places." Ironically, the Mugrabi Bridge is the only entrance permitted for non-Muslims.
The portentous events, of course, have their origin in the myth, as Mitchell Bard writes, that "the Temple Mount has always been a Muslim place and Judaism has no connection to the site." We recall President Clinton's astonishment when Yasser Arafat told him in 2000 that "no Jewish Temple ever existed on the Temple Mount."
This particular fabrication is relatively modern. For example, the following is taken from a 1929 booklet, "A Brief Guide to Al-Sharif [the Noble Sanctuary], Jerusalem:
The Haram: The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest (perhaps from pre-historic) times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This too is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burned offerings and peace offerings.
The author? The notorious anti-Semite and Nazi collaborator, the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husayni, a relative of Yassir Arafat's, incidentally.
Even all the propaganda about Muhammed's mythical night journey from the Temple Mount can be dated to comparatively recent times, sometime in the 19th century. The only reference in the Qur'an to this fable says that Allah took Muhammed from "the Sacred Mosque" in Mecca "to the farthest Mosque," which the Muslims claim is Al-Aqsa. However, as noted by Palestinian Media Watch, "the "night journey" mentioned in the Qur'an is dated to 621 CE. The mosque was built on the Temple Mount by the son of Ummayed Caliph Abd Al-Malik 84 years later, in 705 CE."
In fact, the Qur'an instructs the Jews to enter the Holy Land "that God has decreed for you." Which they apparently did, dozens of centuries before the Qur'an itself, and left material proof of their presence on the Temple Mount. So it behooved the Waqf, the clerics, and the speechifiers to intensify their efforts to demolish or discard every vestige of the Jewish presence. Their efforts have been not only unlawful, but brutal.
In 1996, the underground vaulted archways known as Solomon's Stables were converted into a mosque, called the El-Marwani mosque, capable of holding some 10,000 people. Three years later, the Waqf created what they called an "emergency exit" for the mosque. This "emergency exit," two huge arches comprising a gigantic vaulted entrance, was excavated with bulldozers, which in the process dug a pit more than 131 feet long and 40 feet deep. Trucks then carted away thousands of tons of debris and soil, and dumped them 500 meters east of the Temple Mount, in the municipal garbage dumps of the Kidron Valley.
Of course the Waqf insisted there was nothing to see here; whatever was trucked away could by "historical" definition be nothing but Muslim. However, this material contained countless artifacts "saturated with the history of Jerusalem," said historian Eyal Meiron.
An "archeological crime," said Amir Drory, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which, however, did nothing to halt the vandalization. And from Unesco not a word.
Enter, in 2004, archeologist and Bar-Ilan University professor and archeologist Gabriel Barkay, who together with two of his students, was finally permitted to search the rubble. They hired trucks to cart the refuse -- 400 truckloads -- to Emek Tzurim National Park at the foot of Mt. Scopus, where minute and painstaking examination of the debris would begin. Donors were found, and thus was born the Temple Mount Sifting Project. With ten full-time staffers and an army of sifters -- students, tourists, retired teachers -- the Project has uncovered a treasure trove of artifacts. The project took a hit from the recent snowstorm in Jerusalem, and will need some serious repair work, but as Prof. Barkay says, "With money anything is possible."
Not only money, but dedication, sweat, scholarship and close attention to minute detail, have uncovered innumerable artifacts spanning 10,000 years. Some are particularly exciting, among them a "bulla," or seal impression, bearing the name Gedalyahu Ben Immer Ha-Cohan, suggesting that the owner may have been a brother of Pashur Ben Immer, described in Jeremiah 20:1 as a priest and temple official, according to Prof. Barkay.
Barkay and his archaelogists have also identified some two million pottery shards, some of which can be dated back the 10th century BCE; opus sectile tiles, probably Herodian; 5,000 ancient coins -- Jewish and non-Jewish, including one of the best collection of Crusader coins anywhere; arrowheads, one of which was probably used by the Roman legions in their siege of the Second Temple, another used by the army of Nebuchednezzar; nails from the horseshoes of Crusader horses; a large number of burnt bones, probably of sacrificial animals; combs of women leaving or entering the mikveh, including some head lice; and thousands of other fascinating finds.
The work is compromised by the fact that the artifacts are out of context, not having been found in situ, and possibly vitiated by contaminants in the garbage and debris. Barkay estimates that maybe 10 per cent are definitively verifiable. But says he, "Ten per cent is better than zero per cent, right?"
Meanwhile, the Muslims on the Mount are agitated.