December 24, 2012, 19/12/12
Despite High Court ruling, mounds of earth excavated from Jerusalem holy site go unexamined by archaeologists
by Ilan Ben Zion
The Muslim authority managing the Temple Mount on Sunday excavated dumped tons of unexamined earth and stones excavated from the holy site into a municipal dump, in violation of a High Court injunction, Maariv reported on Monday.
Israel’s top court in September 2004 prohibited removal of earth from the Temple Mount and ruled that, should it be necessary, the Antiquities Authority must be notified a month in advance so it may examine the earth for artifacts.
Jews regard the Temple Mount as their holiest site, where the First and Second Temple were located. Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary and regard it as their third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. According to the existing arrangement, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, or trust, administers the Temple Mount complex.
Despite the High Court of Justice's ruling, the waqf has reportedly removed large piles of dirt from the Temple Mount in recent years and dumped them in the valley east of the Old City walls, provoking an outcry from biblical archaeologists and Jewish groups.
Tzachi Dvira, the archaeologist managing the team that sifts through soil excavated from the Temple Mount, told Maariv that mounds of earth containing historic relics were carted off and dumped on Sunday without notification and before archaeologists could investigate them.
Police claimed the removal of the soil was coordinated in advance. Dvira, however, said there were no Antiquities Authority officials on site, and the one police officer monitoring the operation had no idea of its significance.
Dvira claimed waqf workers exploited a permit for removing construction waste from renovations done at the al-Aqsa Mosque on the site, which also contains the Dome of the Rock, in order to cart off artifact-laden earth from the Temple Mount.
He stated that official oversight of earth removal from the Temple Mount has grown lax in recent years, and said that “the fact that no one has succeeded in stopping the waqf's destructive actions raises many doubts about the role of the government in this matter."
Soil from the Temple Mount that had been removed to the Kidron Valley in recent years has yielded "tens of thousands of finds, including signet rings from the First Temple era, painted floor tiles from the Second Temple era, ancient gold coins, and horseshoe nails and arrowheads belonging to the Knights Templar, who stabled their horses in Solomon’s Stables," Dvira said.