The area, which borders the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, is believed to contain important archaeological artifacts from the First Temple era and is designated as part of a national park. It is an extremely sensitive area in that the Temple Mount is considered Judaism's holiest site and the third holiest place in Islam.
A petition was filed in court by the Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount when it was discovered that Muslims were using the site as a burial ground.
Supporters of the committee and its petition included left-wing author A.B. Yehoshua, Hebrew University Jewish philosophy professor Avi Ravitsky, former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Shomron and senior archaeologists such as Gabriel Barkai, Eilat Mazar, Ehud Netzer, Ronny Reich and Ephraim Stern.
Muslim burial on the site, which was never a cemetery in the past, could end any possibility of excavating the area in the future, as has been done at the foot of the southern wall and the bottom part of the Western Wall.
Police have been blocking Muslims from burying their dead at the site for several months, having identified dozens of plots sold by Silwan elders, who did not own the area, to Muslim families for their departed loved ones. At least 21 of the graves are occupied, 39 are empty and 35 other plots have not yet been opened. The committee has demanded in its petition that the unused gravesites be filled in.
“Muslim burial on the site, which was never a cemetery in the past, could end any possibility of excavating the area in the future, as has been done at the foot of the southern wall and the bottom part of the Western Wall” explained archaeologist Gabriel Barkai in the petition to block the burials.
An Islamic burial ground does exist outside the walls of the Temple Mount compound, at its southeast foot, but apparently Muslims had begun to extend their cemetery into the area defined as a national park.
Police had initially feared that stopping the burials would spark riots and other violence by Muslims. Jerusalem Police Chief Ilan Franco admitted to the court he had iniitially refused to escort city inspectors to hang up notices prohibiting use of the site after Muslims continued to build mausoleums, fearing the reaction by Islamic worshippers.
Repairs being made to a footbridge leading to the entrance of the Temple Mount at the Rambam (Mughrabi) Gate ignited days of violent protests across the country and massive demonstrations in Muslim communities worldwide.
Muslims dumped tons of soil containing priceless artifacts into a riverbed in 1999 while digging a huge pit in the Temple Mount to build an entrance to Solomon’s Stables. The police did not act to stop the illegal digs despite numerous petitions and court orders to halt any such activity.
The area forms a seamline between construction from the Hasmonean and Herodian eras. Remains from the First Temple and 8th century B.C.E. sealing rings stamped “For the King” have been found in past excavations at the site, including one by British archaeologist Charles Warren 140 years ago.