The Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of the nation’s most vaunted archeologists said he is not daunted by an incident on the Temple Mount Sunday where he was rebuked by a Muslim Wakf guard and police officer for referring to Judaism’s holiest site as the “Temple Mount” during a tour on the compound with US college students.
Jerusalem Prize winner and Temple Mount Sifting Project cofounder Dr. Gabriel Barkay said he was guiding an interfaith group of 22 undergraduates from UCLA when he was interrupted by an Arab guard for making the seemingly innocuous reference.
“I was lecturing about the history of the Temple Mount to the students, some of whom were Muslim and Christian, and one of the Wakf guards tried to listen to my explanations, and when he heard the words ‘Temple Mount,’ he got upset,” Barkay said.
The guard then consulted with nearby police officers stationed on the compound, who told Barkay to cease using the term for the duration of the visit.
“The policeman told me he had to accept the complaint, so I used the letters ‘TM’ going forward to describe the site,” he said. “We stayed up there from 8 a.m. until 10:30 a.m.
and didn’t have any other problems. The whole thing is ridiculous.”
Indeed, noting that “Temple Mount” and “Solomon’s Temple” appear frequently in Islamic literature, Barkay dismissed the episode as “stupidity.”
“Temple denial has become so ridiculous that it actually helps the Israeli cause,” Barkay said.
The incident comes after UNESCO ruled in October that the Temple Mount has no connection to Jewish history.
Asked how the students had reacted, Barkay said: “They began to understand the delicacy of one of the most contested places on earth.” The Muslim students, including one woman who wore a hijab, did not object to his historically correct terminology, he added.
Police did not comment on the matter.
Sunday’s incident, reported by The Times of Israel, was not the first time Barkay, who visits the site roughly every six weeks, has found trouble on the compound.
“I’ve had all kinds of issues before, including violence,” he said, noting that he was physically and verbally attacked by Arabs there several months ago, and routinely faced harassment before the government banned the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel from the site in 2015.
Nonetheless, Barkay said he will continue to visit the holy site.
“I am not deterred by this at all,” he said.
Over a year ago, Barkay said that “the Temple Mount is the most delicate and the most important archeological site in this country, and it was never ever excavated – because of politics.”
As a result, Barkay said, the historic plateau where the First and Second Temples once stood has become a “black hole in the history of Jerusalem.”
“Jerusalem may be the most excavated place on earth, but the most important place in Jerusalem is totally unknown,” he said.
Although Israel technically regained sovereignty over the Temple Mount after reunifying Jerusalem during the Six Day War, the government’s concession to allow the Jordanian government to oversee the coveted holy site has resulted in what Barkay termed a “catastrophe.”