Who’s destroying antiquities in Jerusalem?

There is little doubt that Palestinian authorities are conducting this assault on the Temple Mount so as to erase any vestige of archeological evidence for Jewish (and Christian) history.

Old City Walls daytime (photo credit: Courtesy/Joe Yudin)
Old City Walls daytime
(photo credit: Courtesy/Joe Yudin)
Now that it has been admitted to UNESCO as a “member state,” the Palestinian Authority plans to sue Israel for “stealing Palestinian antiquities.”
“We will take Israel to court for systematically destroying and forging Arab and Islamic culture in Jerusalem,” said Hatem Abdel Qader, former PA minister for Jerusalem affairs, after the UNESCO vote.
PA Minister of Tourism Khuloud Daibes alleges that Israel’s renovations of Jerusalem’s Old City walls and its intention to replace the crumbling Mughrabi Bridge at the southern entrance to the Temple Mount are hostile attempts to “change the Islamic and Arabic character of the city.”
The Palestinians are also planning to ask UNESCO to declare several sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank, such as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, international heritage sites belonging to Palestine, not Israel.
If this weren’t so funny, it would be outrageous. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Israel set the international gold standard for unimpeded religious worship in Jerusalem, and for painstaking preservation of Muslim and Christian holy sites and archeological sites across Israel. In civilized and professional circles, Israel is recognized as having contributed enormously to the excavation, study and preservation of Holy Land historical sites and relics.
By contrast, there is no Arab or Islamic country in the Middle East where Christians or Jews can freely operate religious institutions. Under Palestinian Authority and Hamas rule, Christians in the West Bank and Gaza have been hounded, terrorized and driven out. Christian Bethlehem is, effectively, no more. The Church of Nativity was defiled by Palestinian Muslim terrorists who turned it into an armed refuge in 2002. Churches in Gaza have been bombed and burned. Can you imagine how the churches of Jerusalem might fare under Palestinian rule?
Meanwhile, Jewish synagogues and holy sites in Jericho, Nablus and Gush Katif have been burned to the ground while Palestinian police looked on.
In 1996, Palestinian mobs assaulted Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, and Palestinian policemen on the scene shot and wounded the Israeli soldiers guarding the Tomb. Ever since, the site has been sheathed in high concrete barriers, turning it into a Fort Knox-like encampment. Then a Palestinian mob, led by Palestinian policemen, assaulted Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, torched the synagogue inside and opened fire on Israeli troops at the site, killing six Israeli soldiers.
In 2000, Palestinian mobs once again attacked, killed one Israeli soldier and destroyed the building. Palestinian forces again took part. The Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho, with its unique Byzantine-era mosaic floor, was also torched. Today, Israelis have only sporadic access to the site. As for Gush Katif, the wild Palestinian mob destruction of all the synagogues there is just too fresh and painful a wound to talk about.
The Palestinians learned from the Jordanians. Before 1967 Jews were not allowed to reach their holy places in Jerusalem at all; thousands of Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives were desecrated and the tombstones used to pave streets and latrines; and the synagogues of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter were dynamited.
The greatest crime of all – an antiquities crime of historic proportions – has been committed over recent years by the Palestinian Wakf on the Temple Mount. In 1999, the Wakf dug out hundreds of truckloads of dirt from caverns known as Solomon’s Stables beneath the upper plaza (more than 1,600 square meters in area and 15 meters deep) without any archeological supervision or documentation.
Thousands of tons of earth rich in archeological remains from all periods of the Temple Mount were haphazardly dumped into the Kidron Valley and the city garbage dump at Eizariya. The Wakf also destroyed stonework done by Jewish artisans 2,000 years ago in the underground “double passageway.”
Thousands of years of layered history – Jewish history, of course – were gouged out of the ground with heavy machinery and shoveled out of sight. UNESCO didn’t say a thing.
Israeli archeological students are still sifting through this precious rubble, and have found numerous antiquities from the First and Second Temple periods, including stone weights for weighing silver, and a First Temple period bulla (seal impression) containing ancient Hebrew writing which may have belonged to a wellknown family of priests mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah. Other findings are from the late period of the Kings of Judea (8th and 7th centuries BCE), including about one thousand ancient coins, jewelry made of various materials, stone and glass squares from floor and wall mosaics, and many other items.
The Wakf has also allowed the destruction of Christian relics on the Temple Mount, including the Crusader pillars of the 13th-century Grammar Dome in the southwestern corner of the Mount, and the Crusader- era Chain Gate.
According to the 1978 Law of Antiquities, it is forbidden to perform any “alteration, repair or addition to an antiquity located on the site,” but that hasn’t stopped the Wakf from sanctioning the haphazard addition of concrete and stone to these architectural relics, drilling holes into them, spray painting them, chopping through them for electricity cables, and more.
There is little doubt that Palestinian authorities are conducting this assault on the Temple Mount so as to erase any vestige of archeological evidence for Jewish (and Christian) history.
“In Arabic, this practice is known as as Tams al-ma’alem, which means ‘erasing the signs,’ in the sense of destroying the relics of all cultures that preceded Islam,” asserts Dr. Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
And now the PA is going to sue Israel for antiquities theft? Inconceivable! Such chutzpa.

The writer is director of public affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.