Here are some words on recent developments from Hershel Shanks (Hat tip to PaleoJudaica):
Within the last few days, a trench two-feet deep — starting from the northern end of the platform where Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock sits — has begun working its way toward the southern end of the Temple Mount. The work is being done without any regard for the archaeological information or treasures that may lie below. Destruction is particularly great in places where bedrock is no deeper than the trench. Some of the digging is being done with mechanical equipment, instead of by hand as a professional archaeological excavation would be conducted.
[. . .]
That the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that serves as custodian of the site, should wish to install new electric and telephone lines is understandable — provided that the necessary trench is first dug as a professional archaeological excavation. That is the required procedure everywhere in Israel before work can be undertaken at sites with archaeological significance.
[. . .]
The Waqf has a long history of ignoring Israel’s antiquities laws, and Israel has a long history of ignoring these violations. As early as 1970, the Waqf excavated a pit without supervision that exposed a 16-foot-long, six-foot-thick wall that scholars believe may well be the eastern wall of the Herodian Temple complex. An inspector from the antiquities department saw it and composed a handwritten report (still unpublished) before the wall was dismantled, destroyed and covered up.
[. . .]
In 1999, to accommodate a major expansion of an underground mosque into what is known popularly as Solomon’s Stables in the southeastern part of the Temple Mount, the Waqf dug an enormous stairway down to the mosque. Hundreds of truckloads of archaeologically rich dirt were dug with mechanical equipment and then dumped into the adjacent Kidron Valley. When archaeology student Zachi Zweig began to explore the mounds of dirt for antiquities, he was arrested at the behest of the Israel Antiquities Authority — for excavating without a permit.
In an excellent article, well worth reading in full, Dr. Richard Benkin provides some background and perspective:
There is extensive evidence to support the notion that Israel never intended to take over the former Jordanian territory to the east of the 1967 armistice lines. In fact, there is record of frantic communications between Israeli leaders and Jordan’s King Hussein, urging him to stay out of the impending war. History records that he did not. Facing a new set of territorial realities, Dayan and others foresaw the volatility of the site and felt they could reach an accommodation with the Jordanian-controlled Waqf. Moreover, secularist Israeli leaders, like Dayan, saw the Mount as little more than an historical curiosity for Jews, while recognizing its religious significance for Moslems. Neither can it be denied that Israel’s historic commitment to tolerance and its respect for all religions in the area—in stark contradiction to its neighbors—contributed to the decision as well. Thus, the two organizations agreed to maintain the status quo in exchange for the other’s non-interference.
An uneasy but effective truce was maintained until 1993, the year of the Oslo accords. Shortly after the accords were signed, the Jordanian-controlled Waqf withdrew in favor of members appointed by and beholden to Yassir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. The Jordanian-appointed Waqf was not exactly friendly to Israel. It did, however, recognize the practicality of maintaining the status quo. The PA’s appointment of a Minister for Waqf Affairs effectively radicalized the situation and formally subordinated all Mount activities to political aims.
It was less than three years later that the above actions began. The Israeli government and Antiquities Authority were facing a new challenge. Up until that point, the Authority could count on voluntary compliance with its edicts, which were supported by all academics and researchers of good will and were based on long established principles respecting the integrity of inquiry. The new Waqf, however, gave greater priority to politics than historical truth. Its leaders were not schooled in the same set of principles as other researchers. Moreover, it adhered to a PA article of faith to reject the authority of any Israeli agency or institution. Thus, any attempt by the government to enforce its authority, or the 1993 Supreme Court ruling confirming it, would face fierce Arab opposition, involving mass demonstrations and other public displays. Israel could expect international condemnation and declarations that it was attempting to derail the Oslo peace process. Actions by the Arab world to discredit attempts to stop the Waqf’s illegal activity and other nations’ inaction in even questioning their claims confirm Israeli fears. In Orwellian fashion, official Arab and Moslem media throughout the Middle East accuse the Israelis of plotting to destroy the “Moslem” Mount. One Iranian piece quotes the Jerusalem mufti of accusing those who have protested Waqf actions as creating “a big hue and cry to justify [Israel’s] interference in [Moslem] affairs.”
Usually, around Tisha B'Av I write about the human tragedy that the fast commemorates. Loss of life, after all, seems much more serious than the destruction of a building, however sacred, and the relationship between Tisha B'Av and the physical temple has always been a complex one for me. Two years ago, when Judith Weiss hosted a Temple Mount blogburst for Tisha B'Av, I virtually ignored the Temple Mount part.
But physical remains are a vital source for reconstructing Jewish history, for understanding who we are and where we've come from. They give us the ability to transcend time, reaching back to the past and bringing new knew knowledge to future generations. That which is discovered today could transform our understanding of our past. That which is removed or destroyed may hide truths that will never see the light of day.
Go to PaleoJudaica for ongoing coverage of Temple Mount events.