The adage that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” rings especially true
on the Temple Mount, where even the smallest piece of ancient trash – such as a
seal bearing the name “Bethlehem” or a bell that possibly fell off a priests’
robe – can reveal volumes about religious practices.
Workers from the
Temple Mount Sifting Project say that over the past week, six to eight garbage
trucks, illegally removed debris, possibly rich in archeological finds, from the
But Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the debris had
been “modern trash” that needed to be dumped, and that it was done in
cooperation with the Antiquities Authority and under police
The debris dates back to 1999, when the Wakf, the Jordanian
body that retains authority over the Temple Mount and other Muslim holy places,
used bulldozers to remove some 10,000 tons of dirt from the area known as King
Solomon’s Stables to create an emergency exit for the Marwani Mosque, which can
accommodate 10,000 people.
Archeologists were stunned at the wanton
disregard for preserving the material. Garbage trucks dumped the debris
in a big heap in one end of the nearby Kidron Valley.
In 2004, following
a petition by archeologists, the High Court of Justice halted the removal of the
Since then, the eastern part of the Temple Mount has become
perhaps the world’s most controversial garbage dump, with piles of trash marring
the holy site. Construction debris and nylon sheeting are mixed in with medieval
Mameluk wall engravings and shards of ancient Herodian floor tiles.
the 2004 court order, debris can only be removed from the site after a team of
archeologists has examined it – which, say the Temple Mount Sifting Project
workers, would make last week’s debris removal illegal.
“All the removal was done with our oversight and that of the
Israel Antiquities Authority,” said Ben-Ruby, who provided pictures of the
debris removal taken by the police.
“You can see here in the pictures
that we’re talking about old doors and plastic material,” he said. “There’s no
dirt, or if there is dirt it’s from the plants we pulled up.
from 3,000 years ago or 1,500 years ago aren’t going to be in the first 30
cm. [of dirt pulled up with the bushes].”
But workers pointed out
many that ancient artifacts had been strewn haphazardly with the
The sifting project, under the direction of Gabriel Barkay and
Zachi Dvira, is funded in part by the City of David Foundation and works in
cooperation with Bar-Ilan University, the Antiquities Authority and the Israel
Nature and Parks Authority.
Starting in 2005, the project’s workers,
along with thousands of volunteers, including many youngsters on school field trips, began
examining – bucket by bucket – the debris created during the 1999
They have found thousands of ancient coins, pottery oil
lamps, arrowheads, an ivory comb, a ceramic flask, and various First Temple
figurines, among other objects.
Frankie Snyder, who works with the
project, first noticed suspicious activity on the Temple Mount on December 23.
She saw an empty truck waiting close to one of the many piles of debris that
cover the eastern end of the Temple Mount.
From a vantage point on the
Mount of Olives, project workers watched Wakf officials load garbage trucks and
drive them away while the site was not open to visitors. The next day, Snyder
and Dvira followed one of the trucks from the site, careening around corners in
east Jerusalem as they tried to stay on the vehicle’s tail. Dvira said he did
not see any officials from the Antiquities Authority during the
The pair identified ancient hewn stones, including ruins from a
Herodian door, parts of floor tiles and fragments of Byzantine storage jars, in
the debris removed from one of the trucks. According to video taken by Dvira, an
entire truckload consisted with hewn stones, not modern trash as the police
Dvira estimates that over the next four days, six to eight
truckloads of debris were removed from the Temple Mount. Now that the dust has
settled, he and Snyder are trying to figure out how much debris went
“You cannot separate this modern garbage from this soil, this
soil which is rich in archeological remains,” Dvira said Monday on the Temple
Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian Authority-appointed governor of
Jerusalem and a former head of the Wakf, said the debris was from renovations
being undertaken on the Temple Mount. He added that it was the first to be taken
from the site in the eight years since the Wakf was allowed to remove
significant amounts of waste, saying police had been adamant about enforcing the
court’s no-removal order until the coordinated removal last
According to a report filed with UNESCO this summer from Jordan,
workers on the Mount are restoring the plastering and mosaics inside the Dome of
the Rock, laying lead sheet over the roof of the Aksa Mosque complex, renovating
the Al-Marwani Mosque, and renovating the Khanatanyah School and library below
“They want to clean it, they want to [prune] the trees, they
want to improve the appearance, but unfortunately they are not allowed to take
out any quantity of this [trash],” Husseini said on Monday. “This garbage is not
good for the appearance of Jerusalem; to clean it is very important for
everyone, but they can’t.”
As Dvira on Monday pointed to shoddy
restoration work carried out by the Wakf, including a reinforcement project on
the eastern wall of the Old City, he shook his head in
“Anywhere else in Israel archeologists would accompany the
workers and study things,” he said while pointing to the Wakf’s wall
restoration, which is replacing ancient tan stones with smooth, white stones and
is a stark departure from the old material. “It’s a joke.”