Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jerusalem Affairs: Mounting Temple Mount pressure
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

It is being called some of the most extensive work on the Temple Mount in more than a decade. The two-month-old dig on the Temple Mount is being carried out by Islamic officials - with Israeli approval - as part of infrastructure repair, to fix faulty electrical lines on the ancient compound.

A group of independent Israeli archeologists has petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop it, however - something that has received scant coverage in the international press.

The work, which is being carried out with the approval of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the state-run Antiquities Authority, has been repeatedly condemned by local archeologists, claiming that antiquities are being damaged, and calling for its immediate cessation.


Islamic officials routinely deny that the ancient Jewish Temples even existed at the site, while Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Dalit Menzin has repeatedly declined to comment on the issue.

I think the refusal of the IAA to comment is inexcusable. If they have a justification for what is happening, they should speak up. They are given a verbal drubbing later in the article by Eilat Mazar and I think her accusations require an answer.
WITH no response from the government, members of the non-partisan Committee against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount this week petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop "work which is causing irreversible damage to antiquities and archeological artifacts of the greatest importance."

The petition against the premier and the Antiquities Authority, which is signed by the cream of Israel's archeological community, is largely symbolic, however, since the court has never intervened in the goings-on at the Temple Mount or ruled against the government on the supersensitive issue.

Still, the petition - which has been signed by such heavyweights as author A. B. Yehoshua; former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat; executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein; prominent archeologists Ephraim Stern, Amihai Mazar, Ehud Netzer, Israel Finkelstein, Moshe Kochavi, as well as Barkai and leading Temple Mount expert Dr. Eilat Mazar - carries moral weight if nothing else.

Background here.

UPDATE: Hershel Shanks weighs in at the New Jersey Jewish News. Excerpt:
Observers have reported seeing numerous antiquities in the excavated dirt and in the trench, including mosaic tesserae, a quantity of pottery vessels (some of which had been freshly broken by the tractor scoop), and carefully carved and decorated building stones typical of the Second Temple period. Last week, as I said earlier, the excavation hit part of an unusually wide wall that has now been destroyed. It could well have been part of the Temple complex.

Barkay and Mazar continue to protest vehemently and publicly. But they have mostly been met with silence. The archaeological community as such has not raised its voice. Each archaeologist is concerned with his or her own dig, not someone else's violation of the antiquities law. And why jeopardize a career by making trouble when all the well-known political names and faces remain silent? Yes, a few newspaper articles have appeared, but nothing serious.

The Antiquities Authority has been queried on several occasions about this violation of Israel's antiquities laws —on Judaism's holiest site —but the response has always been the same: "No comment."

This thundering silence perhaps explains why the Israeli embassy in Washington has not provided any account or explanation of this depredation on the Temple Mount. Why raise questions and create a problem when nobody really cares?