Sources in the police say that this campaign is not likely to materialize into an actual storming of the Temple Mount, yet the leaders of the Islamic movement are warning against such a move, which will ’lead to the third intifada.’
The clear air of Jerusalem is filled with memories of great men of the past — King David, King Solomon, Herod. The clues are everywhere, but one can only guess what lies beneath the gardens and stone pavement, to which era the broken columns and fragments of marble belong.
In some countries, archeology is considered to be a purely scientific field that has nothing to do with real life and politics. Not so in the Middle East. Here every excavation, every dig and every find immediately affects reality, no matter how ancient.
For more than 60 years, no archeological team has been allowed to perform any work at the Temple Mount. The piles of rubble lying on the outskirts of the compound hide pieces of ancient Lebanese cedars, fragments of marble, carved stones and ceramics — a pure archeological paradise. Unfortunately for archeologists around the globe, for now this paradise remains untouchable. The only digs that are permitted are around the compound.
Yet there is always great controversy over these works, as Islamic authorities assert that the digs and the excavations pose a threat to Al-Aksa’s foundations.
The contention was first made during the 1920s by grand mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini
in an argument over the Jewish faith in the redemption that will come after the Third Temple is built. It gained real support after a fire that was started at Al-Aksa in 1969 by Michael Rohan, a disturbed Australian Christian.
’There are two aspects to this assertion. The first one is a concern that any Jewish dig under the Temple Mount will damage Al-Aksa’s foundations and cause a collapse of all the existing structures,’ explains Reiter. ’The second is a fear that archeologists will discover artifacts from the Temple era — a menora or any other remnant of that time — that will strengthen the claim of the Jews to this historic site. An argument commonly used by the Islamic authorities and experts says that since no such remnants were found during the previous expeditions that worked on the compound in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, there is no use performing any additional digs. Israeli archeologists say that since no expedition has actually dug beneath Al-Aksa, it explains the absence of remnants.’
Zweig supports this view: ’The British archeologists who worked at the site during the last century and beforehand didn’t do a thorough job and didn’t dig beneath, and still there were some interesting findings,’ he says.
The local planning committee has approved the renewal of the controversial works that were suspended this summer at the Mughrabi Gate, which leads to the southwestern gate of the holy compound, and if the proposal is passed in the regional committee there will probably be a new wave of accusations and threats. Recently the Turkish daily Zaman published a report submitted by a group of Turkish archeologists who visited the site in March and inspected the digs.
’The archeological excavation at the Mughrabi pathway, which involves various traces of the Umayyad, Ayyubid
periods, must be discontinued immediately,’ the report said. Ironically, the Turks were invited to the site by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert so that they could attest that there was no threat to Al-Aksa.
While Israel prepares to renew the works at the Mughrabi ramp, the Wakf continues the dig inside the compound to replace the old electric wires that caused a short circuit this summer.
Zweig says that although this time there is an archeological inspector on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, there is still concern that this will cause irreversible damage to the possible archeological findings onsite. While we were touring the compound, the tractors continued the digging.
Coming out from the Chain Gate on the way back from the Temple Mount, we passed through Rehov Hagai
. On the right side of the road, construction was being done. The work, financed by the American Jewish tycoon Irving Moskowitz, is designed to reconstruct the Ohel Yitzhak synagogue, which was built in 1917 and abandoned during the Arab
riots of 1936. In 1948, the structure was destroyed by the Jordanians along with all the other synagogues in the Old City.
During the excavations at the site, an intact 14th century Mameluke bathhouse was discovered. The dig is being conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
A museum is also planned to be constructed at the site. However, the Arab and Iranian media reported recently that the plan was to connect the space to the Western Wall with the help of an underground passageway.
’The Zionist regime’s officials have admitted that they have recently constructed a synagogue under the Al-Aksa Mosque site in Al-Quds. In a response to this Israeli act, Al-Aksa Institute has announced that it was well aware of the existence of many other synagogues under the site of Al-Aksa Mosque, adding that it certified all the claims of Israelis of not having dug under Al-Aksa as absolutely false,’ said the Iranian presstv.ir.
Islamonline.com quoted Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall, as saying that ’the agreement with Cherna Moskowitz, the wife of Irving Moskowitz, has been already signed. The idea still needs approval from the Israeli government, security services and the Israel Antiquities Authority.’ Haaretz
carried a similar report.
Replying to In Jerusalem’s inquiry, Rabbi Rabinowitz denied the report, saying that the possibility of connecting the space with the Kotel tunnels was currently being explored. ’At this stage we are still unsure that this plan is feasible, and there is certainly no agreement.’
from Ateret Cohanim, an organization supported by Moskowitz, also denied that the billionaire was involved in the plan. ’Moskowitz is responsible for restoring the synagogue and building the museum. The dig beneath the structure is being conducted by the IAA, and if someone is interested in exploring whether it is possible and worthwhile to connect Ohel Yitzhak with the Kotel tunnels — [Moskowitz] is not involved.’
Grand Mufti Hussein has slammed ’building the synagogue and digging beneath Al-Aksa,’ claiming that Israel was breaking international law. In an interview with IJ he said that ’the Palestinians refuse the building of any structure — synagogue, apartment house or any other building — on land that belongs to Islamic Wakf and that was occupied by the Israelis in 1967.’
The mufti referred to the synagogue as ’the new structure,’ disregarding the idea that it existed prior to 1948.
According to Reiter, the building in which the synagogue was housed actually belonged to a Jewish family, however the Islamic religious establishment refutes these claims.
Mount tour was over by midday. At that time, more people came to visit the holy sites — some to pray, some to take pictures, some to guard. Now the quiet seemed to be merely a thin outer layer of an otherwise turbulent interior of the Temple Mount.