The mixed prayer section at the Wall is an archaeological disaster
The mixed prayer section at the Wall is an archaeological disaster

It seems successive Israeli governments have taken steps to surrender Jewish archaeological remains in Temple Mount and look the other way while Arabs destroy them in order not to strengthen Jewish claims for Temple Mount because in their minds the Temple Mount has to remain in Arab hands.

Netanyahu seems to be using the expansion of the non-orthodox section of the Kotel as an excuse to cover Jewish archaeological sites, one of the Waqf’s key demands.

On January 2016 Arutz 7 reported that “Dr. Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University’s archaeology institute spoke to Arutz Sheva about the government’s new decision to expand the non-Orthodox mixed prayer section of the Western Wall (Kotel), in the southern part of the Kotel.

Mazar warned that the decision to construct yet another prayer section for Reform Jews, in an expansion of a similar space built in 2013, could prove disastrous for the last remaining area where signs of the destruction of the Second Temple just under 2,000 years ago can be witnessed.

“In the archaeological park at the feet of the Western Wall there is only one section that is exposed and can be viewed. All the rest is underground. This is the southernmost section where the Herodian Quarter from the days of the Second Temple are preserved the way they were,” she said.

Mazar added that “in the excavations of my grandfather Professor (Binyamin) Mazar a giant rockslide of the walls that the Romans destroyed on the Temple Mount was discovered.”

She noted that the rockslide from the Temple’s walls was excavated over the years, and “when they expanded the archaeological park – they moved the southern portion of Herodian road. What remains from all this impressive massive rockslide of these great stones is just a pile of a few dozen meters in a very narrow portion in this section.”

And the site of those remaining ruins of the Temple walls is exactly the point where the new Reform and Conservative prayer section is planned.

The archaeologist explained that the plan is to take the existing ramp established for the prayer section in 2013 and extend it up to the Kotel, in doing so hiding the rockslide “and not leaving anything from it; maybe it will appear like a sample that will look like a joke but not like historical evidence.”

“The person who planned it did so unilaterally without looking at the essential aspect - which is the history and the heritage of Jerusalem, which needs to be felt and not just known about. The Kotel is archaeological and historical proof for what was, and what remains here is the very last thing. It isn’t possible anywhere in the world to touch the rocks of the destruction (of the Temple) and to see the intensity of this destruction.”

Mazar called to rethink the plan, noting, “we are talking about a world heritage site, and the fact that it (the plan) wasn’t officially announced stems only from political considerations, and the site must under no circumstances be covered and used to find solutions for problems of the day. They must not touch the (archaeological) park.”

When asked why there is no international protection for the site which might have prevented the plan, she said that Jerusalem “doesn’t receive the protection it deserves in this aspect. …Who will defend the archaeological heritage of the stones that tell the history of Jerusalem in the most significant way?”

She noted that no other point around the Temple Mount provides such a clear illustration of the destruction of the Temple walls, making the site all the more important, in a point that adds to her argument that the ramp should not be built covering it. 

“This isn’t a place that you can cover and say ‘imagine to yourselves what was here.’ There are huge stones there, there is the artwork that decorated the Temple Mount and it’s all inside the rockslide. …If there will be a ramp on top of it that will be a total destruction of the appearance. It just can’t be done.”

Mazar also noted her surprise at the silence over the decision, noting, “I can understand that there are those who want to expand the prayer space, but the length of the Western Wall is 492 meters; why take these 22 meters where the destruction at its height can be seen, a place that is defined as an archaeological site, and implement there (a solution to) this or that prayer problem? 

On June 28, 2018 Ido ben Porat wrote in Arutz 7"Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud), who heads the Committee for Holy Sites, refused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's request to enlarge the mixed prayer section at the Western Wall.

"I decided to be loyal to my conscience, and therefore I informed the Prime Minister that I do not intend to approve the Western Wall plan by virtue of my authority as head of the Committee for Holy Places,” she continued.

Following Regev's decision and in an attempt to appease the Reform movement, Netanyahu removed her from her post as chair of the committee to approve the work to enlarge the mixed prayer section..."

Netanyahu's surrender of Jewish archaeological remains in Temple Mount is not new: In 1996 Netanyahu gave Solomon's Stables to the Arabs, in 2000 Ehud Barak allowed them to destroy Jewish Archeological remains in Temple Mount. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem ( reports:

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Israeli authorities not to block the opening of a mosque at Solomon’s Stables, an area underneath the Temple Mount, HA’ARETZ reported. The decision reportedly took into consideration security assessments which determined that any attempts to reverse construction work at the site would spark a new round of rioting…”

The Jerusalem Post reported "JERUSALEM (October 11) -- Moslem worshipers will be permitted to pray in the newly renovated Solomon's Stables next to Al-Aksa Mosque today, after the Jerusalem Municipality appeared to give its final approval yesterday.

Police also downplayed the controversy that occurred this week when the Wakf announced its plans to open the four dunams of vaulted, underground chambers, on which the city had threatened to stop work during the summer...."

Before Solomon Stables was given to the Arabs, Tuvia Sagiv sent a letter to Netanyahu urging him not to do it because "If Solomon's stables were to be given over to Arab authority this would disrupt the option to divide this area vertically between the Jews and the Arabs. This would of course create the worst to be expected, a situation of "them or us." See the full letter below:

A Letter to the Prime Minister from Tuvia Sagiv

October 11, 1996

Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, The Prime minister of The State of Israel, Jerusalem

Re: The Temple Mount - Solomon's Stables

As an Architect I have been carrying research over the last seven years on The Temple Mount and the whereabouts of its location.

Results of this research show that The Jewish Temple and it's courts are situated at the lower level of the Moriah Court (The Temple Mount). The Jewish Temple is located between The Al-Aksa mosque and the Golden Dome, close to Solomon's stables.

These results have operative consequences concerning the Israel-Arab conflict and its possible solution. Al Aksa, The Golden Dome, and the buildings in the upper part of The Moriah Court will be given over to Muslim hands, and the ruins of The Jewish Temple and Solomon's stables that are located in the lower part of the court will be given over to Jewish hands.

If Solomon's stables were to be given over to Arab authority this would disrupt the option to divide this area vertically between the Jews and the Arabs. This would of course create the worst to be expected, a situation of "them or us."

Any arrangement concerning the lower parts of the Moriah Court, demands a thorough archeological analysis, which may help in any decision making concerning this issue.

I would like to point out that there is no need to carry out digs in this area. In the area of the Moriah Court there exist more that 30 cisterns which can be physically entered enabling research of the area without interfering with the upper level.

I ask of you to plan sufficient archeological research in this area. This should be carried out with cooperation with the religious authorities of both sides involved before, and as a condition to any change made concerning Solomon's stables.

Yours sincerely,

Tuvia Sagiv, Tel Aviv

After Netanyahu gave Solomon Stables to the Arabs they started digging, Ehud Barak allowed the Waqf to destroy Jewish Archaelogical remains in Temple Mount claiming that archaeological oversight at Temple Mount would upset the peace process. Suzanne Singer, a contributing editor to the Biblical Archeological Review reported about Palestinian destruction of Jewish Archaeological remains in Temple Mount in September 2000: “Large-scale illegal construction on the Temple Mount and wholesale dumping of earth in the nearby Kidron Valley resumed this spring…”

“… The Temple Mount is, of course, sacred to three great Western faiths and is part of the world’s cultural patrimony. Here may lie remnants from the time of the First Temple of Solomon, the Second Temple built by Herod, the Byzantine period and the early Islamic eras. Israeli excavations around the exterior of the Temple Mount since 1967 have found remains from all these periods, but the Mount itself has been terra incognita, protected by an understanding between Israel and the Waqf that says no construction will take place there…

” …Last November, we reported that the Waqf, in the dead of night, had dumped hundreds of truckloads of earth from the Temple Mount into the Kidron Valley and municipal garbage dumps. About 6,000 tons of earth were removed …Despite the flagrant disregard by the Waqf of the requirement for IAA supervision, there was no serious response by Israeli authorities. Today the dumped earth is unprotected and is being covered with garbage, making it unlikely that the IAA will ever act on its announced intention to salvage artifacts by sifting through the piles.”

“…This spring and early summer, trucks and tractors returned to the Temple Mount, bringing building materials in and carting earth away through the Lions’ Gate, just north of the Temple Mount. For 200 yards along the inside of the Temple Mount’s eastern wall, from the al-Marawani Mosque’s new entrance to somewhat south of the Golden Gate, lie stacks of paving stones, scaffolding, wood and iron materials, along with large architectural fragments, such as pieces of ancient columns…

” …The construction on the Temple Mount is only the latest, albeit perhaps the most egregious, example of the Waqf’s disregard for the protection of antiquities. In 1993 Israel’s Supreme Court found that the Waqf had violated the country’s antiquities laws no less than 35 times, with many of the violations causing the irreversible destruction of archaeological remains.

” …Due to Prime Minister Barak’s concern for negotiations with the Palestinians, no effective archaeological oversight is taking place on the Temple Mount. No one halts the work so that potential damage can be assessed and prevented; as a result, heavy equipment is free to move about the Mount for projects that are neither approved nor supervised. The frequently heard view is that a tough stance by Israel will enflame the Palestinians and set back the peace talks…”

On June 17,2018 BIN reported “The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf took advantage of the final days of the holy month of Ramadan, when Jews were barred from visiting the Temple Mount, to eliminate from the compound piles of earth that were rich with archaeological treasures dating back to the Temple period, Makor Rishon reported Friday. The piles of earth were created initially by illegal renovations the Waqf carried out in 1999.

The soil that was now eliminated was dug up by the Waqf as part of its project of erecting a new mosque in the Solomon’s Stables area on the Temple Mount. At the time, 400 truckloads of ancient soil were unloaded in city dumps and in the Kidron Valley. Eventually, Israeli legal authorities became involved and banned the removal of the remaining piles of soil on the Temple Mount.

The Waqf was planning to get rid of those piles as well, but a court petition by the Public Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount was accepted by the High Court of Justice, which in 2004 issued an injunction against the removal of the piles of soil.

The Waqf never agreed with the court’s decision, which stood in the way of its plan to pave over the eastern part of the compound, as they have done elsewhere on the Temple Mount. An Israeli archaeologist, Tzahi Devira, who runs the Sifting Project that has revealed tens of thousands of treasures in the dumped soil, has been keeping watch on the Waqf for close to two decades, to make sure they don’t sin again.

So the Waqf did what so many faithful Muslim officials do when faced with a legal prohibition: they cheated, using the Israeli gesture of closing off the Temple Mount to Jews on the last week of Ramadan to complete their heinous crime against history and culture, and recruited more than 1,000 men to remove the piles of soil – this time making sure to get rid of the pesky evidence of there ever being a Jewish Temple there.”

While Israel preserves Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, Arabs have proven that they cannot be trusted to respect Jewish Holy sites. On December 15, 2017 Nadav Shragai wrote in Israel Hayom “King Herod’s grand Third Palace is being systematically destroyed by the Palestinians, who are stripping its stone and building homes around it. The site is in Area A, meters from Israeli-controlled territory, but the Israeli government can do nothing…Here is a lesson that teaches us how the Palestinians today treat remnants of the past…It is unclear how much of this beauty remains.

Yaron Rosenthal, director of the Kfar Etzion Field School, who sometimes works with the Palestinians on environmental preservation projects, finds it difficult to hide his anger.

“Israel sees how one of the grandest palaces ever built in the Holy Land is being destroyed, and is standing by helplessly, because under the Oslo Accords the site, which is 30 meters from Area C, was made the responsibility of the Palestinians. It’s time for Israel to say, ‘No more.’ With all due respect to the Oslo Accords, we will not let you destroy important [archaeological] remains linked to the history of the Jewish people in their land, remains that are part of the cultural fabric of this country,” Rosenthal says…”

On Jan 6, 2018 Judith Abramson reported in Jerusalemonline “Hebrew University archaeology doctoral student Haggai Cohen Klonymus described to the Israel News Company (formerly Channel 2 TV) how Palestinian tractors and bulldozers arrived at an archaeological site where the ancient city of Archelaus once stood. The Palestinians completely leveled the compound in order to locate hidden archaeological treasures to sell in the antiquities market. “Just as ISIS destroyed sites in Iran and Syria that were thousands of years old, the same situation is occurring here,” he said. “This is a deliberate and systematic destruction of an archaeological site….It’s just a tragedy.”

Why does the Israeli government look the other way while the Arabs destroy Jewish archaeological remains? 

Ezequiel Doiny is author of "Obama's assault on Jerusalem's Western Wall"