Can Different Religions Peacefully Share a Sacred Site? A Temple Mount Tragedy
One of the major points of contention between Israel and the Arab/Moslem world is over the most sacred piece of real estate on the planet. At 37 acres, the Temple Mount is the focal point of prayer and contention for the three western religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. While Christianity has Rome, Constantinople, and Jerusalem vying for spiritual “seniority;” and Islam has Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem; Judaism has Jerusalem, and Jerusalem, and Jerusalem.
However, traditionally, the role of the holy city and, in particular, the Temple Mount, has been widely, if not grudgingly, recognized in importance by each of these traditions to the other.
Southern aerial view of the Temple Mount. (Andrew Shiva/ CC BY SA 4.0 )
Arguments Over Artifacts at the Temple Mount
It has only been in the last century, a result of a “Twice Promised Land” coming out of World War I, that we find disinformation and the re-writing of history taking place. But the greatest activity has taken place in the 21st century.
The Waqf, the Islamic religious authority that was granted control of the Temple Mount by Israel decades ago, decided to ‘remodel’ a series of stables beneath the Mount, create a mosque, and then an internal entry from just north of the Al Aqsa plaza. In doing so, tons of debris, filled with archaeological treasures pertaining to the history of the Temple Mount were unceremoniously dumped, with no regard for context, into the Kidron Valley – all in spite of Israeli law that forbids such activity unless overseen by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
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Northeast exposure of Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem. Considered to be the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. (Andrew Shiva/ CC BY SA 4.0 )
To make matters worse, many stones, some dating to the tenth century BC, were re-used and modified for their building activity. Archaeologist Eilat Mazar said: “There is disappointment at the turning of a blind eye and the ongoing contempt for the tremendous archaeological importance of the Temple Mount. Heavy machinery and lack of documentation can damage ancient relics and erase evidence of the presence of the biblical structures. Any excavation, even if for technical reasons, must be documented, photographed and the dirt sifted for any remains of relics.”
Dr. Gabi Barkai slammed the way the excavations were being carried out, stating that, “They should be using a toothbrush, not a bulldozer.”
A view of the Southwest corner of the temple mount. One of the four minarets and the back of the Al-Aqsa Mosque can be seen atop to the Mount. Robinson's arch can be seen on the Western face. The ruins in the foreground are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods. Jerusalem (Photo from 2007). ( CC BY 2.0 )
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, rejected the Israeli charges. “We don’t harm the antiquities; we are the ones who are taking care of the antiquities, unlike others who destroy them.”
Yusuf Natsheh, of the Islamic Waqf, argued that “remains unearthed would be from the 16th or 17th century Ottoman period.”
He said the Al Aqsa compound is an important religious institution. “We regret some Israeli groups try to use archaeology to achieve political ends, but their rules of archaeology do not apply to the Haram; it is a living religious site in an occupied land.”
The Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Haram Ash-Sharif. (Tony Kane/ CC BY 2.0 )
Sifting Through the Temple Mount’s History
In 2004, debris was transferred to camps set up at Tzurim Valley National Park, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. Here, a sifting project was begun and, over the years, the Temple Mount debris dumped in the Kidron Valley was moved to the sifting site (a total of 322 truckloads to date).
View of the Kidron Valley from the Old City of Jerusalem. ( Public Domain )
Objects testifying to the Jewish nature of the Temple Mount platform were dismissed by the Waqf. The Waqf was widely accused of attempting to hide evidence of the existence of the Jewish temples, which many Palestinian leaders say never existed. That debate continued to rage. “The Aqsa Mosque was an Islamic mosque since the world was created,” said Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, in November 2015. “It was never anything other than a mosque.”