The Churban underneath the Mount (Tisha B’Av 2013)
Monday night and Tuesday are Tisha B’Av, a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Jewish Temples and other catastrophes.
I won’t be posting until Tuesday afternoon, but meanwhile, here is something appropriate for the day.
In 1996, the Israeli government gave permission to open a temporary mosque in the area of Solomon’s Stables, a Herodian-era structure that was built underneath an extension to the Temple Mount. The Waqf made it permanent, and during those days of Oslo, (and right after deadly Muslim riots over the opening of the tunnels next to the Kotel) the Israeli government caved:
Muslim authorities angered Israelis on Wednesday with plans to open a new underground prayer hall at Al Aqsa mosque, on the site revered by Jews as Temple Mount and beside the Israeli tunnel project that set off rioting last month.
Hassan Tahboub, the Palestinian minister of Islamic affairs, said the hall would open in two days.
Tahboub refused to comment Wednesday on the timing, saying only that the hall was not Israel’s “responsibility or property.”
The previous Israeli government gave permission in January for the chamber to be used for prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and during rainy periods when worshipers cannot pray in the courtyard of Al Aqsa. But Israel did not authorize the Muslims to use it on a permanent basis.
Right-wing Israelis called for the renovated prayer hall to remain closed, saying it violates the delicate status quo over the site and that renovations might damage it.
The mosque was given the name Marwani, and Muslims claimed ex post facto that it existed since the seventh century.
That wasn’t the end of the story. From Archaeology, March/April 2000:
Construction at a mosque within Jerusalem’s Temple Mount has sparked a fierce controversy between archaeologists, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and the Israeli government.
According to Jerusalem District archaeologist Jon Seligman, the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that oversees public works in the religious complex, determined last autumn that an emergency exit in the Marwani Mosque was necessary. (The New York Times had previously reported that construction of the exit was urged by Israeli police.)
Israeli archaeologists were angered at the Waqf’s use of bulldozers to reopen a twelfth-century Crusader entrance for use as an emergency exit for the mosque. “It was clear to the IAA that an emergency exit [at the Marwani Mosque] was necessary, but in the best situation, salvage archaeology would have been performed first,” Seligman told Archaeology.
While the Israel Antiquities Authority has expressed concern over damage to Muslim-period structures within the Temple Mount, other archaeologists have charged that archaeological material dating to the First Temple Period (ca. 960-586 B.C.) was being destroyed. A group of archaeology students examined Temple Mount fill dumped by the Waqf in the nearby Kidron Valley and recovered ceramic material an d architectural fragments dating to this period and later.
“The IAA to a large extent is helpless due to political considerations,” says Aren Maeir, a professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan, “I suppose they do not want this in any way to affect the peace process with the Palestinians.”
Sources in the Israeli government have told Archaeology that what was originally intended as a simple emergency exit has become more of a ‘refurbishment,” with two large entrances under construction. In January, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a petition to halt all construction by the Waqf on the complex, arguing that the matter was political and should be left up to the government. Responding to a petition filed with the High Court in December by Yehuda Etzion, however, on February 2 the IAA gave the court a list of recovered artifacts.
Waqf head Adnan Husseini stated that the Israeli government had no right to demand a halt to construction at the complex. “We never asked for permission from the occupation,” Husseini said.
Salon in 2001 reported on the issue, making it sound like the Jews were making a big deal over nothing, with some help from the Israel Antiquities Authority:
For the past few years, the main drama up there has focused not on people but on dirt — big piles of dirt, excavated from the compound with a bulldozer by Muslim authorities, dumped into a nearby valley and methodically surveyed by anxious Israelis, looking for artifacts from ancient Jewish civilizations.
According to Jon Seligman, the Jerusalem regional archeologist for the Israeli Antiquities Authority, the rubble contained “bits of buildings, ceramics, coins. Nothing spectacular.”
Most of the debris was from the period that followed the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century when the site, in ruins since the Romans destroyed King Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D., was transformed into a Muslim sanctuary.
Despite Seligman’s assessment and numerous police reports that minimize the importance of the work carried out, many Israelis are convinced that Muslims are deliberately destroying significant artifacts from the periods of the First and Second Jewish Temples in order to erase 3,000 years of Jewish history — and, by extension, Israel’s connection to the land.
The rumors are difficult to check. …Although Israel claims Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, in practice Israeli archeologists have no authority to control or prevent work on the site. Inaccessible and majestic, the mount is a natural habitat for conspiracy theories.
…Whether construction work in the southeastern corner of the 35-acre compound amounts to a real loss for historical understanding is hotly debated. The Wakf of course denies that any harm was done. Pointing to photographs of his work, Awwad said that the dirt removed to accommodate a staircase was simply filling, mixed up over the centuries and impossible to analyze layer by layer. Meir Ben-Dov, an Israeli archeologist familiar with the area of the mount, also believes the accusations made by the committee are “a big lie.” But dissenting voices have been lost in the brouhaha.
Of course, the conspiracy theorists were proven correct. Thousands of priceless artifacts have been recovered from the dirt dumped by the Waqf. Haaretz described it already in 2006:
The project of sifting layers of Temple Mount dirt has yielded thousands of new artifacts dating from the First Temple period to today. The dirt was removed in 1999 by the Islamic Religious Trust (Waqf) from the Solomon’s Stables area to the Kidron Stream Valley. The sifting itself is taking place at Tzurim Valley National Park, at the foot of Mount Scopus, and being funded by the Ir David Foundation. Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Tzachi Zweig, the archaeologists directing the sifting project with the help of hundreds of volunteers, are publishing photographs and information about the new discoveries in the upcoming issue of Ariel, which comes out in a few days.
The bulk of the artifacts are small finds – the term used for artifacts that can be lifted and transported, rather than fixed features. The dirt was removed in the course of excavating the mammoth entrance to the underground mosque built seven years ago in the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount. The Waqf and Islamic Movement in Israel separated dirt from stones, then used the ancient building blocks for rebuilding, in case the police barred construction materials from being brought in.
Most of the finds predate the Middle Ages. The finds include 10,000-year-old flint tools; numerous potsherds; some 1,000 ancient coins; lots of jewelry (pendants, rings, bracelets, earrings and beads in a variety of colors and materials); clothing accessories and decorative pieces; talismans; dice and game pieces made of bone and ivory; ivory and mother of pearl inlay for furniture; figurines and statuettes; stone and metal weights; arrowheads and rifle bullets; stone and glass shards; remains of stone mosaic and glass wall mosaics; decorated tiles and parts of structures; stamps, seals and a host of other items.
Here is the Marwani mosque – a section of the Temple Mount that Jews would be allowed to visit under Jewish law, since it was part of the Herodian extensions, but Muslim bigotry and Israeli acquiescence ensures that Jews will not be allowed there anytime soon:
Here is video of the basement under the Al Aqsa mosque itself. I’m not sure what direction these tunnels run so I don’t know if they go towards the Dome of the Rock or not. The person who uploaded it to YouTube says that “underneath the masjid are caves which go further down.”
This is just a little bit of the desecration happening every single day on – and within – the Temple Mount.
I wish all who observe Tisha B’Av an easy and meaningful fast, and may this be the last time we mark this as a day of mourning.
Some of my previous Tisha B’Av articles:
2005: A sad anniversary
2006: A reason to keep mourning on Tisha B’Av
2007: Tisha B’Av, 1948
2008: Weeping over the ruins of Jerusalem
2009: The Kotel, 1912
2010: A reason to cry
2011: Judaism’s holiest site is being desecrated today
2012: Documentary on Israel’s disengagement of Gaza