THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE MOUNT ANTIQUITIES (JCPA-JERUSALEM CENTER FOR POLICY RESEARCH) Mark Ami-El Jerusalem Letter / Viewpoints No. 483 08/01/02)
JCPA-Jerusalem Center Public Affairs
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The Holiest Site of the Jewish People
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem represents the greatest point of
sanctity for the Jewish people. King Solomon established the Temple,
or Beit Ha-Mikdash, on Mt. Moriah. The Temple had a section known as
the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten
Commandments and the Torah, was housed. While it stood, Jews were
required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year. After
the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, Jewish
exiles returned to Jerusalem in 538 BCE and completed the
construction of the Second Temple in 515 BCE. Even after the Temple´s
destruction by Roman armies in 70 CE, the site of the Temple remained
the direction of Jewish prayer.
The purification of the Temple in Jerusalem is the central theme in
the holiday of Hanukkah. Thus, according to Jewish tradition, the
sanctity of the Temple Mount area remains intact despite the Temple´s
destruction. Indeed, Rabbi A.I. Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi
of the pre-state Yishuv, confirmed that the eternal sanctity of the
Temple Mount continues to exist.1
Islamic Disregard for the Heritage of Others
The Taliban´s destruction of ancient Buddhist cultural treasures in
the Bamian Valley of Afghanistan during 1998 should have sounded a
warning throughout the world over radical Islam´s disregard for the
religious heritage of others. The Taliban´s extremism was partly a
result of the influence of their guest, Osama bin Laden, and their
Saudi Wahhabi paymasters more generally.2
Israel has witnessed a similar and more widespread pattern of actions
by Islamists in support a pre-eminent, if not exclusive, Islamic
claim to the Holy Land:
* In Nazareth, Muslim zealots have sought since 1997 to construct a
large mosque that would dwarf the Christian Basilica of the
* On October 7, 2000, after constant attacks by Palestinian mobs, the
Jewish holy site of Joseph´s Tomb in Nablus (Shechem) was sacked and
burned, and later converted into a mosque. Five days later, the
ancient Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho was sacked and burned
* Rachel´s Tomb at the Jerusalem-Bethlehem border has come under
repeated Palestinian sniper attack.
* In April 2002, Palestinian Tanzim gunmen from Yasser Arafat´s Fatah
movement took over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and
controlled the site for weeks at gunpoint.
However, the activities by the Muslim Waqf and the Israeli Muslim
movement on the Temple Mount represent an unprecedented attempt to
deny any legitimacy to the ancient Jewish heritage in Jerusalem.
After September 2000, the Muslim Waqf closed off the Temple Mount
entirely to any archeological oversight by the Israel Antiquities
Authority. Then, in order to complete new underground mosques at the
site, it removed to city garbage dumps some 13,000 tons of rubble
from the Temple Mount that included archeological remnants from the
First and Second Temple periods.
The intention is to turn the entire 36-acre Temple Mount compound
into an exclusively Muslim site by erasing every sign, remnant, and
memory of its Jewish past, including the destruction of archeological
findings that are proof of this past.
In a country where construction projects may be held up for months
out of concern for the preservation of antiquities, the free hand
given the Muslim Waqf to destroy Jewish artifacts at Judaism´s
holiest site is hard to comprehend.
The Temple Mount in 1967
As a result of the Six-Day War in 1967, Jerusalem once again became a
united city. On June 27, the Knesset passed an amendment to the Law
and Administration Ordinance that extended Israeli sovereignty to the
eastern part of the city of Jerusalem, including the Old City where
the Temple Mount stands.5
At the same time, the Knesset also passed the Safeguarding of the
Holy Places Law, which states: "The holy places shall be safeguarded
against desecration and any other harm, and from anything liable to
impede freedom of access of members of religious denominations to the
places sacred to them or to their feelings regarding those places."
In other words, freedom of access of the various religious
denominations to their holy places is anchored in the laws of the
state and in decisions of the High Court of Justice.6
Soon after its capture, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan handed the keys
to the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf authorities of the Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan in a gesture of respect for the rights of Muslims
at the site.7
In August 1967, the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Isser Yehuda Unterman and
Yitzhak Nissim, in concert with other leading rabbis, asserted
that "For generations we have warned against and refrained from
entering any part of the Temple Mount." As a result, most observant
Jews refrain from entering the Temple Mount. Instead, they pray en
masse at the Western Wall.8 However, in a later period, Chief Rabbis
Mordechai Eliahu and Shlomo Goren expressed the view that Jews should
be allowed to enter and pray in parts of the Temple Mount where the
Temple was not situated, notably in the northern and southern
expanses of the Mount.9
After Israel implemented the 1993 Oslo Agreement with the PLO, the
newly established Palestinian Authority (PA) of Yasser Arafat began
to set up offices in Jerusalem which, according to the agreement,
remained under Israel´s sole jurisdiction. In fact, the Israel-Jordan
Peace Treaty of October 26, 1994 (Article 9) declared that "Israel
respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the
permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to
the Jordanian historic role in these shrines."10 Yet, after Oslo, PA
penetration of Jerusalem deepened and included the appointment of a
Palestinian minister for Waqf affairs, Hasan Tahbub, and a
Palestinian mufti of Jerusalem, ´Ikrimi Sabri.
During this period, Jordan steadily withdrew its religious authority
over the Temple Mount, ceding control to Palestinian-appointed
officials. By the time Yasser Arafat launched his intifada violence
against Israel in September 2000, the Palestinian takeover of
authority on the Temple Mount was complete. As a result, the Israel
Antiquities Authority has been prevented from entering the Temple
Mount area, since the Waqf, as the practical custodian of the site,
was empowered to decide who was permitted entry and who was
The Antiquities Authority admits that the situation on the Mount is
serious and that antiquities have been disturbed. Yet Islamic clerics
deny any non-Moslem connection to the Temple Mount and prevent
archeologists from investigating the site, one of the world´s most
prominent ancient treasures. While Israel has accepted its present
inability to actively explore the Temple Mount, it is one thing to
prevent exploration and quite another to bulldoze through ancient
structures without any archeological supervision.
Muslims Change the Status Quo
In 1996, Palestinian Islamic clerics changed the accepted status quo
that had been preserved for generations and converted two ancient
underground Second Temple period structures into a new large mosque.
Both structures, known as Solomon´s Stables and the Eastern Hulda
Gate passageway, were never mosques before. The new mosque extends
over an area of 1.5 acres and has become the largest mosque in
Israel, able to accommodate 10,000 people.
In 1997, another ancient underground Second Temple period structure,
known as the Western Hulda Gate passageway, was converted into
another new mosque.
In November 1999, the Islamic clerics opened what they called
an "emergency exit" to the new mosque. Over three days and nights,
the "exit" expanded into a gaping hole, 18,000 square feet in size,
and up to 36 feet deep. Thousands of tons of ancient fill from the
site, subsequently found by Israeli archeologists to contain
artifacts dating as early as the First Temple period, were dumped
into the Kidron Valley.
In February and March 2001, an ancient arched structure built against
the eastern wall of the Temple Mount enclosure was razed by
bulldozers in order to further enlarge the "emergency gate" of the
new mosque at Solomon´s Stables.
Furthermore, without any archeological supervision, approximately
6,000 square meters of the ancient surface level of the Temple Mount
were dug up by tractors, paved, and declared to be open mosques. The
previous director of the Antiquities Authority has called this "an
archeological crime." No Israeli official has seen any plans or has
set limits on the work being carried out.
While Israel government officials declared they would close the gates
of the Temple Mount to heavy equipment, such as trucks and tractors,
and that building materials and construction equipment would not be
allowed into the Temple Mount, and no earth or rubble would be
allowed to be removed for dumping, building materials such as stone
blocks, paving stones and masonry, wood planks, steel reinforcement
rods, and scaffolding continued to flow into the Temple Mount. A
large area of approximately 15,000 square meters (15 dunams) in the
eastern part of the Temple Mount appeared like one gigantic
construction site for a length of 250 meters, from the gateway to
Solomon´s Stables up to the Gate of Mercy. Similarly, the removal of
earth and rubble continued, that included rare archeological finds
that are forever lost to science and culture.
The Muslims claim that the Temple Mount is an ancient mosque dating
from the time of Adam and Eve. Thus, their goal is to turn the entire
area into one giant mosque, and into an exclusively Muslim area. They
have been working diligently to erase and destroy every archeological
remnant and finding that may testify to any Jewish spark or
connection to the place. Their intention is to change the status quo
of the place by turning all the areas of the Mount into Muslim holy
places, mosques, and prayer areas, with the intention of preventing
any Jewish presence whatsoever in the future.
During October 1999-January 2000, a huge hole -- 50 meters long, 25
meters wide, and 12 meters deep -- was dug in the Temple Mount north
of the underground substructure known as Solomon´s Stables. This
structure is a row of subterranean halls located at the southeastern
corner of the Temple Mount and is enclosed by the external wall of
This structure was last used by the Crusaders during the medieval
era. The system of halls was improved in the twelfth century by the
knightly Order of Solomon´s Temple (the Templars), whose members,
fighting monks, gave them the name of "Solomon´s Stables." The
Crusader King Baldwin handed the place over to the Knights Templars,
and they turned it into stables for their horses. After a major
earthquake in 1033 CE, the top of the structure was rebuilt, but no
one can confidently date its original construction.
It is not clear what is under Solomon´s Stables. We do know about an
underground corridor lying below the level of the Single Gate (which
once led to Solomon´s Stables) that is constructed of Herodian-style
blocks. The corridor ends at its northern extremity before a doorway
leading to a structure situated below Solomon´s Stables. Most
scholars suggest that it was founded in the Second Temple period.
King Herod built this substructure when he leveled the platform of
Policemen on the Mount reported observing the dismantling of a water
channel with arches on the western side of the pit at a depth of 2-3
meters, an ancient structure built some time between the Second
Temple period and the Muslim period.
The Debris and the Artifacts
The material in the dumps in El-Azaria and in the Kidron Valley both
have the same texture, which is a dusty gray soil. The earth contains
a mixture of many stones from different periods. Also found were many
ancient masonry stones, some carbonized, and many modern blocks and
floor tiles, which are probably fragments of the current Temple Mount
floor. At first glance it seems that the earth contains no pottery
shards, but after a good rain it can easily be seen that the earth is
full of shards.
Antiquities found in the dumps include a pillared figurine leg from
the time of the First Temple; pottery from the First Temple -- the
earliest identified shard is from the eighth century BCE; and pottery
from the Second Temple -- including the Hellenistic and Early Roman
According to a Waqf worker who participated in the construction in
1996, stones with decorations and inscriptions were recut so that
markings were destroyed. He said he saw writing on the stones in
ancient Hebrew. He also saw 5-pointed star symbols on the stones,
which we know was a Hasmonean symbol commonly found on handle seals
from the second century BCE.
In the recent digging on the Temple Mount, hundreds of trucks were
seen removing earth. The trucks were traced to Jerusalem´s municipal
garbage dump, where the material was mixed with the local garbage,
making it impossible for any archeological examination. When the
manager of the dump was informed that the trucks contained earth with
archeological value, he directed them to a clean area, but after
redirecting four trucks, they stopped coming to the dump. The very
next evening, around midnight, they dumped tons of truckloads of
excavated material into the Kidron Valley.
The following day, archeologists arrived at the new dumpsite and took
samples of pottery. Dr. Dan Bahat dated at least half of it to the
Second Temple Era. Material collected from the garbage dump was also
examined by archeologists Dr. Gabi Barkai and Dr. Aren Maeir.
A Plan to Bring "Holy Water" from Mecca
Sheikh Rayadh Salah, the head of the Israeli Islamic movement and an
Israeli citizen, is the force behind all the activities in the past
few years. Salah stands behind the ambitious project to clean and
renovate 37 empty underground spaces, some of which include large
halls, each encompassing 100 square meters, with heights of more than
ten meters. He has arranged funding and donations from throughout the
Arab world to support these efforts.
Extensive work continues to clean ten water holes for storing water
from the holy Zamzam River in Mecca, thereby increasing the holiness
of the Temple Mount in the eyes of the Muslims and increasing its
importance as a special central area for prayer in the eyes of the
entire Muslim world. The hidden agenda of the Islamic movement is to
elevate the sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam, to place it on a par with
Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
All of the underground spaces of the Temple Mount are ancient, some
possibly Canaanite, and others date from the period of the First
Temple, from the days of the Hasmoneans and Herod. Some served as
ancient gates to the Temple Mount, and others as purifying baths for
priests who became impure. These underground spaces present a most
important archeological connection for our knowledge of the Temple
Mount and for research of its origins. It is impossible to imagine
any kind of work in these cisterns being done without archeological
Public Calls to Stop the Destruction
Somewhat belatedly, public efforts within Israel galvanized to demand
a stop to the modern construction and destruction on the Temple
Mount. Urgent letters were sent to the prime minister and other
ministers warning of "a serious act of irreparable vandalism and
destruction carried out without supervision, while abrogating the
An open letter to the prime minister protesting the destruction was
signed by numerous highly-respected individuals including former
Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek and current Mayor Ehud Olmert, authors
Amos Oz and Haim Gouri, and 82 members of Israel Knesset. Israelis
are appalled that the law requiring the preservation of all holy
places is brazenly ignored on the Temple Mount.
The Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on
the Temple Mount was founded in January 2000 to preserve the
antiquities there. It is a volunteer group with no political,
national, or religious affiliation, made up of well-known Israeli
public figures, archeologists, writers, lawyers, jurists, and members
of the security services.
1. The Committee demanded that the Israeli government:
2. Stop the destruction on the Temple Mount.
3. Open the Temple Mount to Israeli and international media.
4. Enable the Antiquities Authority to fulfill its duties and guard
the antiquities in the State of Israel.
See that the status quo on the Temple Mount is kept and that all
changes be undertaken in a way that would not destroy ancient remains.
In a petition on this matter to the Supreme Court in March 2001, the
Committee presented the opinions of four premier security experts,
among them a former minister of internal security and two former
senior officials of the General Security Services, as well as a
previous advisor on terrorism to two prime ministers. All testified
that it is possible to stop the work of the Waqf and the Muslim
Eventually, the government did decide to stop certain projects, such
as the paving, and prevented the introduction of construction
equipment necessary to continue the work.
The Southern Wall is About to Fall
While the large-scale destruction of artifacts has now stopped, and
the trucks have stopped carting away tons of valuable debris, there
is still no supervision whatsoever on the Temple Mount. Furthermore,
an increasingly dangerous buckling is now evident in the southern
wall of the Temple Mount, which might collapse if left without any
oversight or attention by government officials.11
According to Hebrew University archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, author
of The Complete Guide to the Temple Mount Excavations, "We have no
way of knowing what is going on underground in the large caverns,
where the Waqf is making major changes. The southern wall is
beginning to buckle because of the destruction carried out by the
Waqf. It is about to fall -- within a matter of months, and possibly
even weeks; I have trouble believing it will last the entire winter,
and it could fall on those standing below."
The bulging of the wall is clearly visible, but nothing is being done
about it since Israeli authorities are barred from entering. "These
walls were not built to support tractors and loaded trucks. The path
of the rainwater has also been changed in the process, and water is
trickling down the walls and eating away at them. The Waqf has placed
some scaffolding there to try to hold up the wall, but is doing no
work to repair it. Once a catastrophe happens, Israel will be blamed,
and perhaps justifiably so, since we are doing nothing to stop it,"
said Dr. Mazar.
"The only thing that will solve this problem is a public outcry
against the continued destruction of the Temple Mount," Dr. Mazar
What Needs to Be Done
The Committee has a detailed proposal to prevent further destruction
of antiquities on the Temple Mount:
* Stop immediately all construction, digging, stone cutting, and work
on the underground spaces, including "the cleaning" of the water
cisterns that the Muslim Waqf and the Israeli Muslim movement are
* Prevent the introduction of construction equipment and material,
including tractors, trucks, and heavy machinery, as well as spare
parts and fuel for the equipment.
* Immediately remove the tractors, the large stone cutters, the large
amount of construction material in the area of the Mount, and all the
other equipment and material related to the work.
* Prevent the removal of stones, earth, and refuse without full
supervision by the Antiquities Authority.
* Inspect all those entering and leaving the Mount, including all
vehicles, to prevent the smuggling of antiquities outside the area.
* Immediately return the inspectors of the Antiquities Authority to
supervise the Temple Mount and position there a permanent inspector
with full authority, as is accepted and established by law for every
other place in Israel.
* Significantly expand the power of the police on the Temple Mount
and alter the unit´s composition (today only a small part of the unit
are Jews) so that its members would not be vulnerable to pressures.
Strengthen the supervision and patrols by the police on the Mount in
every place and at all times.
* Establish an administrator responsible for all permits for work on
the Temple Mount, in the framework of maintaining the status quo, as
well as preventing all work not permitted by the administrator.
* Investigate and tighten the law against the destruction of
antiquities, particularly in light of the work carried out on the
* Open the Temple Mount to full, free, and regular examination by the
national and international media, as is accepted among the democratic
and cultured nations of the free world.
In addition, although the damage is irreversible, a rescue excavation
should be undertaken on the Mount, even though most of the pit is
already covered by cement. All the special stones and artifacts that
were kept on the Mount after the Waqf had sifted the dirt should be
examined. Waqf officials are currently preventing any access to these
stones. Finally, all of the debris dumped in the Kidron Valley should
be examined. This could be done in a few weeks with special
machinery. Since this debris was not filtered, it is high probable
that it contains important small artifacts with inscriptions and
Future generations will not understand how, while under Jewish rule,
we allowed the destruction of our antiquities. History will not
forgive us if we do not stop, even belatedly, the crimes that have
occurred on the Temple Mount, whose goal is to wipe out every vestige
and testimony to the existence of Jewish history and archeology at
the site. (© Copyright 08/01/02)
1. Dore Gold, Jerusalem in International Diplomacy (Jerusalem:
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2001);
2. Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords (London:
Pan Books, 2001), p. 139.
3. Raphael Israeli, "The Anti-Millennium: The Islamization of
Nazareth," Jerusalem Viewpoints, No. 428 (April 16, 2000).
4. Statement of the Government of Israel to the Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-
Finding Committee (Mitchell Commission), December 28, 2000;
5. Netanel Lorch, ed., Major Knesset Debates, vol. 4 (Lanham, Md.:
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and University Press of America,
1993), p. 1608-1614.
6. Ruth Lapidoth and Moshe Hirsch, eds., The Jerusalem Question and
its Resolution: Selected Documents (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Mirtinus
Nijhoff Publishers, 1994), p. 465-466.
7. Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the
Modern Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p.
8. Lapidoth and Hirsch, p. 466.
9. Yoel Cohen, "The Political Role of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate in
the Temple Mount Question," Jewish Political Studies Review, vol.
11:1-2 (Spring 1999); http://www.jcpa.org/jpsr/s99-yc.htm.
10. Treaty of Peace between the State of Israel and the Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan, October 26, 1994; http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?
11. Etgar Lefkovits, "Olmert Warns Temple Mount Wall in Danger of
Collapse," Jerusalem Post, August 27, 2002;
Mark Ami-El is managing editor of Jerusalem Viewpoints. This article
was prepared with the assistance of the Committee for the Prevention
of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount (http://www.har-
habayt.org), Dr. Eilat Mazar, Zachi Zweig, and Sarah B. Tannenbaum.
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