The Israeli Archaeology Council has warned that the government's plans to build a second Reform prayer space at the southern end of the Kotel (Western Wall) will irrevocably ruin the finds in the area of the Southern Wall Archaeological Gardens and Robinson's Arch.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud), and Executive Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Israel Hasson, the Archaeology Council warned the link to Jewish history will be ruined by construction of a new large prayer platform over the Southern Wall excavations.
The Archaeology Council includes some of the most internationally renowned archaeologists in Israel, such as Prof. Ronny Reich, Prof. Amos Kloner and Dr. Gabi Barkay.
They demanded that the government stop its plans to build a non-Orthodox egalitarian prayer space at the important historical site, which is being constructed despite the existence of a similar non-Orthodox 500 square meter Ezrat Yisrael prayer space established in 2013.
"There can be no substitute for the preservation of Jerusalem's ruins, and indeed for other places from ancient times that still exist around the world, in which the events of the past can actually still be seen, felt and understood," wrote the veteran archaeologists in their letter.
"The tumbled stones from the Western Wall sitting on the Second Temple era road embody this. This is the only place where one can see and touch remains of the destruction that occurred to the Jewish People about which Jews around the world grieve every year on Tisha B'Av. These remains are unparalleled in their educational and historical value."
Noting the value of the site, they added, "this site is of paramount importance to the heritage of the Jewish people, and to the world. Saving the ruins is the utmost archaeological, public, educational and cultural obligation."
"This violates international law"
The warning echoes the words of Dr. Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University, who told Arutz Sheva in early February that the new prayer section would hide the last signs of the destruction of the Second Temple.
Following the liberation of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War the southern section of the Kotel where the Archaeological Gardens now stand was excavated, revealing impressive remains from the Second Temple Period. Prime among the finds was a paved road along the Western Wall that was lined by stores for pilgrims to the Temple.
Huge stones from the Western Wall that were toppled by the invading Roman army in 70 CE were found there, as was the pillar Robinson's Arch rested on.
Robinson's Arch Archaeological Garden was already seriously damaged after the High Court in 2003 ruled to allow prayer to take place there, causing the northwestern part of the Garden where the toppled Western Wall stones are to be closed to visitors. A separate path was built to the new prayer site.
"Visitors to the site can readily see that this platform and the path to it are horribly destructive to the Garden's appearance, thereby ruining one's ability to understand the site's glory. The path and the platform must be cleared away immediately," argued the archaeologists.
Advocate Gilad Corinaldi, who represents archaeologists and local intellectuals opposing the new prayer space, added, "the deal clearly violates the foundations of international law and the statutes regarding the safety and protection of international cultural and heritage sites that the State of Israel has not only signed but also initiated."