Dr. Gabi Barkai, senior lecturer at Bar Ilan University and recipient of the Jerusalem Prize for Archaeology, says Israelis must demand that Israeli antiquities law be enforced at Israel's most important archaeological site– the Temple Mount.
"It is the most important site in the world for the Jewish people," Barkai told Benny Tucker of Arutz Sheva's Hebrew newsmagazine in a Jerusalem Day interview, "as well as the most important archaeological site in Israel, and despite all this, Israel has abandoned it. Over the past ten years, the Waqf has taken control, making major changes in the status quo: It has conducted illegal digs, built mosques and the like, and the situation has changed from one extreme to the other."
"Some years ago," he said, "they took 400 truckloads of dirt from the Temple Mount and dumped it into the Kidron Valley – totally illegally. This is dirt that is filled with Jewish history from many periods: the Canaanites, the First Temple, the period of the return to Zion [from Babylonia], the Second Temple, including the Hashmonaim period and King Herod, and up to now. Over the past several years, we have been sifting through the dirt. This is of course not the optimum way to perform archaeology, because you need context, layers and the like, but this is the best we can do in light of these barbaric digs, and we are trying to get the most out of it. Jerusalem is filled with archaeological digs, but the most important site has never been done; this dirt is the only source we have."
Barkai explained that despite the conditions, "We have made thousands of amazing finds that have changed the way we understand that period."
Asked later to elaborate, he told Israel National News, "For instance, we have found many small floor tiles, of different colors, which confirm the Talmud's description of the floor of the Second Temple as being reminiscent of the ocean."
Other finds have included fragments of stone decorated with ornaments known to be from the Second Temple Period, arrowheads from Nebuchadnezzar's army and also from the Romans, as well as coins and decorations from many periods. Among the most exciting finds were bullae (seal rings), ostracons written in ancient Hebrew script, seals, and more.
The "Screening the Waste" project is being carried out in Emek Tzurim, to where the dirt was transferred. Emek Tzurim is located above the Kidron Valley northeast of the Old City wall, part of the National Park around the walls of Jerusalem, and the project is being conducted under the auspices of the National Parks Authority, sponsored by the Elad (a Hebrew acronym of "To the City of David") Association.
"We demand that the law regarding antiquities be enforced," Barkai said, "and our sovereignty be activated there. These are cultural assets for which we have a tremendous responsibility towards future generations… I would like to see the removal of all the Waqf's heavy equipment, and I would like to see the Waqf observe the law; the Israel Antiquities Authority must be allowed to always be on site to supervise, and not have to come in various disguises and the like."
Barkai explained that in addition to building mosques on the site, the Moslems clearly have the goal of detaching Israel from its past and Holy Temple connections: "They wish to undermine Jewish ownership and bonds to the Temple Mount. They've built a giant mosque there in Solomon's Stables [under the Temple Mount] and another one nearby – but aside from that, they have an ideological goal which is even making inroads to naïve circles in the west, and it is called 'Holy Temple denial.' They act as if there never was a Holy Temple. This is very very grave; regarding the Holocaust, there are living people who still remember it, but the same cannot be said regarding the Temple…"
"We must demand that Israeli law and sovereignty be enforced on the Temple Mount," Barkai concluded.