Ahead of Jerusalem Day, members of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Lobby spent Tuesday sifting through more than 2,000 years of history inside a large tent at the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation.
The ongoing archeological project is located in the capital’s Tzurim Valley National Park, where workers have spent the last five years carefully combing through thousands of tons of debris removed from the Temple Mount nearly 10 years ago.
In 1999, the Wakf Islamic trust, which is in charge of the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount, requested permission from the government to construct emergency exits for a series of underground mosques that had been opened inside the compound during the late 1990s. Upon receiving permission, Wakf officials constructed an entrance to the underground el-Marwani mosque in the area known as Solomon’s Stables. During the exits’ construction, the Wakf removed some 10,000 tons, or 400 truckloads, of ancient debris, which was then dumped in the nearby Kidron Valley and the Jerusalem municipal dump – some of it lost forever among the trash and other rubble.
Enter Gabriel Barkay of Bar-Ilan University, who applied for and eventually received a license from the Israel Antiquities Authority to sort through the discarded piles in search of antiquities.
Joined by his former student Zachi Zweig, Barkay now oversees the sorting. Using a process known as “wet sifting,” which is similar to panning for gold, the efforts have turned up a rich bounty of First and Second Temple-era artifacts.
On Tuesday afternoon, Knesset members got a firsthand look at the site’s operations and were even given a chance to do some sifting of their own, as they paid a visit to thetent where Barkay, Zweig and a slew of volunteers were conducting their work.
“This could have part of a vessel one of my ancestors carried olive oil in to make sacrifices in the Beit Hamikdash [the Temple],” said MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), as he held up a shard of pottery he discovered in a pile of the discarded debris.
Other MKs echoed Ben-Ari’s observations, expressing the importance of the site’s offerings for “all Israelis, and all of the Jewish people.”
“This is a clear sign that Jerusalem is ours – that its beginnings belong to the Jewish people, and the basis of its holiness is rooted in Judaism,” said Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who was also in attendance.
“And it’s not an issue of right-wing or left-wing, religious or secular,” he added. “Any Jew with even a basic knowledge of the Bible can relate to this place on a deep level. It is the tangible history of our people and a solid proof of our connection here that is impossible to argue with.”
Schneller said that for that reason, he would continue to work in the Knesset to halt the Wakf’s excavation activities on the Temple Mount, and hold them accountable for the damage done to antiquities at the holy site.
“We have to realize our sovereignty over the site,” he said.
Habayit Hayehudi MK Zevulun Orlev echoed Schneller’s comments, telling The Jerusalem Post, “Today I saw with my own eyes and felt with my own hands the very history of the Jewish people.”
He charged that “what the Wakf has done on the Temple Mount amounts to a horrible archeological crime and an affront to the deep connection Jews have with the Temple Mount.”
Orlev said he was planning to bring the matter up during a Wednesday Knesset Education Committee hearing on the lack of oversight in archeological excavations in Jerusalem.
“We’ll see what the Knesset has to say,” he said.
All rights reserved © The Jerusalem Post 1995 - 2010