A top Israeli archaeologist claims ‘barbaric’ Muslim digs are stripping Jerusalem’sTemple Mount of its Jewish heritage. Dr Gabriel Barkay, of BarIlan University, has likened Israel and the West’s denial of the site’s Jewish history to that of the Holocaust, and has warned that thousands of years of history could be lost if authorities do not step in soon to prevent more damage at the hands of the controlling Islamic Wafq council, who he says have been dumping vital archaeological material miles away as waste.
“(It is) the most important archaeological site in Israel, and despite all this, Israel has abandoned it,” Barkay tells Arutz Sheva magazine. ” 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,” adds Barkay, “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.” Barkay has been leading a team of archaeologists in the ‘Screening the Waste’ project in the valley, which he claims has thrown up many objects from the Mount’s past including ornaments from the Second Temple Period and Roman and Babylonian arrowheads, latterly from the Nebuchadnezzar-led army that sacked Zedekiah’s Jerusalem in 587BC.
“This is of course not the optimum way to perform archaeology, because you need context, layers and the like,” says Barkay, “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.”
And Barkay believes Israeli antiquities law should be introduced to the site as quickly as possible to prevent any further damage. “These are cultural assets for which we have a tremendous responsibility towards future generations,” he says. “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.” Israel’s archaeology has always been a febrile issue – it was even excluded from a recent world conference.
Temple Mount is one of the world’s holiest sites for both Jews and Muslims, and is the subject of continued conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both of whom claim sovereignty. The first and second Jewish temples were built on the site in the 10th and 6th centuries BC respectively. Yet following the 637AD Muslim conquest of Jerusalem the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock were constructed on the spot, which remains a focal point for Muslims.
For the past decade the site has been under the control of the Waqf, and non-Muslim prayer is strictly forbidden. Barkay claims the Waqf aims to destroy recognition of Temple Mount’s Jewish heritage: “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.”