July 22, 2001
By Melissa Radler
NEW YORK (July 22) - In a bipartisan bid to stop the destruction of ancient Jewish artifacts located under the Temple Mount, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) introduced legislation into Congress on Thursday that would eliminate aid to the Palestinian Authority should it continue to authorize the removal of archaeological antiquities from Judaism's holiest site.
Introduced with 16 co-sponsors, the Temple Mount Preservation Act was lauded by Jewish leaders here who are have become increasingly concerned with Palestinian leaders' claims that Jewish history at the Temple Mount is fabricated, and their efforts to excavate and destroy such history in Jerusalem's Old City.
Calling the destruction "one of the most unprecedented attacks on religious heritage of our time," Cantor stated at a press conference that under the current circumstances, "thousands of years of Judeo-Christian heritage is under siege at this most sacred of sites to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam." The legislation, which calls on the Bush administration to "prohibit assistance to the PA or its instrumentalities unless the president certifies that no excavation of the Temple Mount in Israel is being conducted," states that the "massive excavations and unsupervised destruction of artifacts are undeniable affronts to the concept of religious freedom and tolerance that must be respected in order to achieve and maintain peace in the Middle East."
After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Wakf, or Islamic religious trust, began authorizing widespread bulldozing and destroying of antiquities dating back to the First Temple period, which have been dumped in the Kidron Valley nearby and, according to some reports, sold on the black market, in early 1998.
Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the PA-appointed mufti of Jerusalem and chief Muslim administrator of the site, was referred to by Cantor in the legislation as an anti-Semite. Sabri has publicly, and repeatedly, denied any Jewish link to the Temple Mount. At the Camp David peace summit last year, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat also reportedly rejected any Jewish claims to the Temple Mount.
According to Cantor's legislation, "the actions of Yasser Arafat and the PA threaten to eliminate all historical evidence of Jewish activity on the Temple Mount and serve to discredit Israeli claims of sovereignty over the Temple Mount." The US is set to provide the Palestinians with $125 million this year as part of a three-year, $400 million package approved by Congress in 2000, as well as an additional $75m. in indirect aid through the US Agency for International Development.
"I think it's important that Congress understand that the Palestinians can't be trusted on many levels, not the least of which is that they can't be trusted to preserve the important religious sites in Jerusalem," said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), one of the bill's co-sponsors. "I think we need to hold them accountable and the Cantor legislation seeks to do that," he said.
For a Christian member of Congress and co-sponsor, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana), the desecration of Jewish history on the Temple Mount is "an outrageous example of an attempt by the PA to show no regard to the important claim that both Jewish and Christian history have on that site."
"When you think of the millions of believing Christians and Jews across America who cherish that site, and that $125 million is being used to excavate the site without any regard to its unique history and without any regard to standard archaeological protocol, it is totally unacceptable," said Pence. "We are not an honest broker in the Middle East, we are a friend of Israel in the Middle East, and this is precisely the moment that a friend and partner writing the checks can speak to the recipient of those checks."
Jewish leaders praised the legislation as a step toward raising awareness of the destruction that is currently occurring in Jerusalem. "This legislation sends a very important message," said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, "that all those who want to see the site preserved are not going to assist those responsible for that desecration."
Reminder: A copy of the text of this Congressional bill is available at www.templeinstitute.org under the "current events" link. While at our site, please sign and submit the petition in favor of this legislation. The Temple Institute produced a short film, "Reviving the Stones" (ordering information at www.templeinstitute.org) which documents the Moslem Wakf's campaign of destruction on the Temple Mount. Pictures of the destruction and other pertinent information are available at