Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Ongoing Destruction of the Temple

I don't mean that in a metaphorical sense. This is about the actual destruction of Temple Mount artifacts by the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that controls the area. This destruction has been going on for many years and I haven't blogged about it; there are many bloggers who can offer more informed coverage of biblical archaeology than I can. I've been paying more attention lately, though, because my little sis was recently involved in a Bar-Ilan run project to sift through the debris overturned by the Waqf's bulldozers in the hope of preserving precious archaeological remains. The project has uncovered thousands of artifacts from various periods, some of which are of major historical significance. There is only so much that such a project can accomplish, however. Aside from the damage to the artifacts themselves, their wanton removal from their original site makes the authenticity of many items difficult or impossible to establish. Often, the rubble has even been mixed with modern-day garbage.

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.


fleurdelis28 said...

I can't remotely explain it, but there's some part of me that wouldn't mind so much if the Temple Mount disappeared quietly in some sort of bizarre hiccup of space-time, but absolutely can't abide this, can barely even stand to read about it. I'm not sure if it's because this way I feel like I ought to be doing something about it and I can't or won't, or what.

elf said...

I feel about the same way, but I'm not sure there's anything we can do. I can even see where the Israeli government is coming from in allowing this to go on, angry as I am about it.

fleurdelis28 said...

I can even see where the Israeli government is coming from in allowing this to go on, angry as I am about it.

Could you explain to me, then? (It may just be that I haven't read enough about the issue, since I always get upset and stop.)

Fr. Carl said...

We would like to announce a new Interfaith Book Club is forming in Holliston, MA.

Interfaith Book Club for Young Adults
Where: Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, Holliston MA
When: September 18 2007at 7pm (Monthly gatherings)
What: Meet kindred book lovers. We will explore the relationship between spirituality of the great world faiths and the defining contemporary global events. All faiths welcome! The first meeting will be to choose our booklist. Bring suggestions.

Contact: Fr. Carl Chudy or Fr. Joe Matteucig, Xaverian Missionaries at 508.429.2144 or email: Register online at: