The Archeological Digs: Near the Temple Mount and Not Under It
The archeological digs Israel has conducted over the years near the Temple Mount are a laudable scientific and cultural endeavor. Publication of the results has enabled all lovers of culture, science, and religion, and the members of all the communities – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – to identify the relics of their past that are immersed in the soil of Jerusalem, to learn about them and exult in them, deepening their bond to that past. But it is natural that the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish people who returned to Jerusalem and Zion after two thousand years in exile, did not remain indifferent to findings from the earlier epochs which corresponded with Jewish historical sources and sacred writings. Discoveries and publications about the Jewish people’s ancient past in Jerusalem won greater public attention. At the same time, the archeologists did not disdain periods when other peoples and religions were present in Jerusalem. They revealed, documented, and published these findings meticulously, in keeping with scientific standards.
The propagators of the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel have ignored this. One of their regular rituals since the unification of Jerusalem in 1967 has centered on the archeological digs surrounding the Temple Mount: each time Israel has dug near the mount or at the foot of its walls, the cry of “Al-Aksa is in danger” has rung out in response.
This chapter focuses on several sites near the Temple Mount where Israel has carried out archeological digs. Regarding every one of these sites it has been charged that the work there endangers Al-Aksa. In each case the charge goes hand in hand with severe incitement and sometimes also violence. The incitement and the charges fall on attentive ears even though in each and every case the charge is without foundation.
The archeological digs Israel has conducted over the years near the Temple Mount are a laudable scientific and cultural endeavor. Every one has been said to endanger Al-Aksa, although in every case the charge is without foundation.
The study of the history of Jerusalem, which has fascinated generations of historians and researchers, has suffered from one glaring lack – scientific excavations or archeological discoveries on the Temple Mount itself. Although such discoveries could have been the crowning glory of Temple Mount researchers, until 1967 almost no excavations were done at the site. Up to the mid-nineteenth century the Muslim authorities forbade archeologists, researchers, scientists, religious representatives, and those of various worldviews and nations to even enter the mount, let alone dig there, and even posed obstacles to researching its nearby surroundings. When Kaiser Wilhelm, who toured the Dome of the Rock in 1898, told his hosts that “it is a pity that excavations are not being carried out at this important site,” the kadi accompanying him looked heavenward and said, “A man should direct his eyes and his thoughts upward, at the skies, instead of downward to the depths.”(1) When Montagu Brownlow Parker, a British adventurer who headed a group that stole into the mount in 1911, carried out a secret excavation in the vicinity of Al-Aksa and the Dome of the Rock over several nights, the Wakf quickly found out. Parker and his group, who were discovered while digging beneath the Drinking Stone (or rock of Mount Moriah) in the hope of finding the treasures of the Temple there, hurriedly escaped to a yacht that awaited them at Jaffa port and returned to Europe.(2)
This policy of the Wakf and the Muslim clerics did not change after the Six-Day War; indeed, it was reinforced. In the background lurked the fear (intensified by the Crusader history) that the European powers would gain access to the Temple Mount; but the main, undisguised fear was that excavations in the general vicinity and on the mount in particular would disclose relics of the Jewish presence on the mount from First and Second Temple days, which might contradict religious suppositions rooted in the Islamic outlook.(3) Moreover, archeological discoveries that would yield further evidence of the Temples’ existence could, from the Muslim standpoint, topple the whole elaborate edifice of denial of the Jewish link to the place, an edifice in which the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel played an important role. Even when archeological relics from various periods were discovered accidentally during development and renovation work on the mount, the Wakf hastened to hush up the find and prevent the dig from going further.(4)
Except for a single case, Israel honored the Muslim precepts and never excavated under the Temple Mount, only along its walls or at some distance from them. The thousands of publications claiming Israel was digging under the mosques were, then, mendacious. Only in 1981 did an official state functionary take his own initiative and empty the mud and water in an existing tunnel that led eastward from the Western Wall under the Temple Mount compound. The rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy places, Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz, who dreamed of discovering the Temple implements, removed a blockage of the Second Temple-era gate that researchers call either Cistern 30 or Warren’s Gate. Without the authorization or knowledge of the government, he began hauling out large quantities of mud and water from the entry tunnel that extends about 30 meters from Warren’s Gate under the Temple Mount. Getz was not scheming to bring down the mosques. He indeed was among those rabbis who forbade entering the mount on Halakhic (Jewish law) grounds. Nevertheless, when his action came to light, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Police Minister Dr. Yosef Burg ordered that the gate be sealed and even had a concrete cover added.(5)
Throughout the 44 years of Israeli rule over united Jerusalem and its holy places, Israel has uncovered the entire extent – under the ground surface – of the Western Wall, at the foot of which Jews have prayed for centuries. The total length of the wall is 488 meters. The first 81 meters on the southern side (including the earthen ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate) were excavated and researched after the Six-Day War by archeologists Benjamin Mazar and Meir Ben-Dov, and today are an archeological tourist site and not a prayer plaza.(6) The next 57 meters are the open prayer plaza that the State of Israel prepared after the Six-Day War. The remaining 350 meters of the Western Wall, northward from that point, were excavated by the Religious Affairs Ministry beneath the streets and houses of the Old City, in the area known as the Western Wall Tunnel. In addition, Israel unearthed and also cleaned out the Hasmonean Channel, an ancient aqueduct from Second Temple days (or the end of First Temple days) that extends along the length of the Western Wall in a northward direction, but not under the Temple Mount.
Facing the “Holy of Holies” (the site of the Jewish Temple) in the Western Wall Tunnel. On the right: the concrete blockage from 1981. The gate was sealed at the order of then-prime minister Menachem Begin to prevent passage under the Temple Mount. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
Israel has excavated the City of David south of the Temple Mount; the digs there are 150 to 500 meters from the mount. Israeli archeologists have also dug at the foot of the Southern Wall of the mount, on Haggai Street in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, at the Western Wall plaza, and under the ramp that led to the Mughrabi Gate, before natural erosion caused its collapse in February 2004. The Israel Antiquities Authority has carried out rescue digs in many other parts of the Old City of Jerusalem and its environs, in keeping with Israeli law mandating rescue digs of this kind at any construction site, and particularly in areas with an archeological potential such as Jerusalem and its Old City.
Such activity was conducted, for example, in the vicinity of Jaffa Gate, where in February 2010 a main thoroughfare was discovered of Byzantine-era Jerusalem about 1500 years ago. This finding aroused great excitement since it confirmed the authenticity of the Madaba Map, an ancient mosaic map from the sixth century CE that was discovered in a church in Jordan and portrayed the Land of Israel in the Byzantine era. The urgent need to strengthen the foundations of structures in the Old City led to rescue digs and to findings that included a trove of earthenware, weights, and coins from various periods.(7) Also discovered was the upper aqueduct of Jerusalem from the Roman period, about 1800 years old.(8) In October 2010, the need to build a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City led to rescue digs that revealed a bathing pool, part of a Roman bathhouse from the second-third centuries CE. Tiles of the bathhouse still bore the seal of Fretensis, the Tenth Roman Legion.
This finding was significant because until then, despite extensive digs in the Jewish Quarter, not a single structure of the Roman Legion had been discovered there. The new finding attested that Aelia Capitolina, the Roman city established after the destruction of Jerusalem, occupied a wider area than was previously thought.(9)
Over the years numerous rescue digs have been carried out in many other locations in Jerusalem, which is a dynamic and developing city, and have turned up interesting findings from various periods. From 2005 to 2009, remnants were discovered of buildings from various eras including the First Temple period in the western part of the Western Wall plaza, about a hundred meters west of the Temple Mount. These excavations were conducted prior to the construction of a large educational center that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation wants to build there. The digs also unearthed remnants of an impressive Roman street as well as five Hebrew seals. On one of the seals the name of its owner, Hagav, was preserved, along with a fine ornament in an Assyrian style of a soldier carrying a bow. The other seals also bear the Hebrew names of their owners, and also found near them was a profusion of earthenware with handles of jugs carrying impressions that are known in the research as “impressions of the king,” from the days of King Hezekiah of Judah (eighth century BCE).(10) This cultural wealth that the soil of Jerusalem harbored within it did not persuade the Muslims. Virtually any blow of an Israeli archeologist’s trowel in the vicinity of the Old City and near the Temple Mount sparks cries of “Al-Aksa is in danger!” This has been a fraudulent campaign, deliberately timed and focused especially on certain sites.
Eight Excavation Sites – Eight Test Cases
9.1 The Excavations at the Foot of the Southern Wall (1968-1978)
Background: Prof. Benjamin Mazar, the first Israeli archeologist to dig at the foot of the Southern Wall after the Six-Day War, first requested to dig at the Western Wall but was turned down by the then religious affairs minister, Dr. Zerah Warhaftig, and the Chief Rabbinate. These regarded the Western Wall as a place of prayer only. Mazar was left with the Southern Wall, and on February 28, 1968, he and his assistant Meir Ben-Dov launched the excavations there, licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The Society for the Study of the Land of Israel and Its Antiquities, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Parks Authority, and the Hebrew University gave the dig their sponsorship, and it also won the support of then-Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek.(11)
The Muslims’ Charges: During the 1970s and 1980s, Jordan and other Arab countries passed countless resolutions in international forums condemning Israel for archeological digs carried out at the foot of the Southern Wall. The Muslims charged that the digs penetrated under the mosques’ foundations and were threatening the wall’s stability. UN institutions were flooded with complaints that Israel was changing the Muslim historical, cultural, and religious nature of eastern Jerusalem.
The Answer to the Charges: In fact, these digs unearthed impressive relics of the Muslim presence in Jerusalem. The excavation was conducted in the vicinity of the Southern Wall, southward in the direction of the Old City walls, and never extended northward to under the Temple Mount compound. At least in one case, in the area of the Hulda Gates where the excavators discovered an underground passage from the area of the digs to the surface of the Temple Mount compound, Israel had the passage blocked in coordination with the Wakf.(12)
The excavation was conducted in the vicinity of the Southern Wall, southward, and never extended northward to under the Temple Mount compound.
In March 1983, police arrested four yeshiva students carrying excavation trowels at the site of the archeological digs at the foot of the Southern Wall, on suspicion that they planned to infiltrate the Temple Mount through an underground passage. Their comrades in the nearby Jewish Quarter were arrested as well. They were tried but exonerated. Although this incident is not directly connected to archeological digs, it occurred in the vicinity of an excavation site and shows how determined Israel was to prevent the digs’ spillover into the Temple Mount compound, or digging of any other kind under the compound.(13)
The stability of the Southern Wall was weakened many years later when the Wakf and the Israeli Islamic Movement carried out operations at the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount compound whose aim was to convert the underground recess known as Solomon’s Stables into a mosque (see Chapter 10).
Cautionary and Safety Measures Taken by Israel: The excavation was overseen by a safety committee made up of representatives of the City of Jerusalem, the Defense Ministry, the Labor Ministry, and the archeological team. Later the safety supervision was put in the hands of a team of professionals, including experts from the Technion in Haifa. In line with an appraisal by Technion experts, heavy security beams were emplaced within the dig at the foot of the Southern Wall to reinforce the wall’s stability during the work.(14)
Informal Muslim Attitudes: The heads of the Wakf and the Supreme Muslim Council visited the site several times and received professional briefings from Mazar and Ben-Dov, the heads of the archeological team that excavated the site. Following a conversation between Ben-Dov and Anwar Nusseibeh, governor of the Jerusalem district and a minister in the Jordanian government while it ruled Jerusalem, Nusseibeh’s son, Sari Nusseibeh, came to the site and worked there shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish excavators. He was especially intrigued by the findings from the Umayyad period, and under their impact began to study Muslim philosophy and history.(15) In one of the visits to the place, the mufti Halami al-Muhtaseb and Wakf secretary Ghassan Tahboub waxed enthusiastic over the findings and the team’s work.(16) One Muslim visitor who requested anonymity was so impressed by what he saw that he told a friend in an unhindered conversation: “What is all this nonsense coming from Jordan about the digs destroying the mosque? We can see with our own eyes that this admirable excavation is unearthing finds from the Islamic period. They’re really gems.” The director of the Jordanian Antiquities Department, Rafik Dajani, was also favorably impressed by the Israeli endeavor and said so openly. The Jordanian authorities retaliated by firing him from his post.(17)
One Muslim visitor told a friend: “What is all this nonsense coming from Jordan about the digs destroying the mosque? We can see with our own eyes that this admirable excavation is unearthing finds from the Islamic period. They’re really gems.”
Main Archeological Findings: (18) At the convergence of the walls (Southern and Western), a paved road was found that extends both northward and southward that was Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare in late Second Temple days. Here a stone was discovered, which had fallen from above at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, bearing a broken inscription in Hebrew that can be rendered as: “The shofar blast di…,” which apparently can be completed as “The shofar blast divides between the sacred and the profane,” as appears in written sources including Josephus’ The Jewish War.(19) The stone seems to have marked the spot where the Temple Mount priests stood when they blew the trumpets to proclaim the entry and departure of the Sabbath.
Volunteers uncover the hidden treasures of Jerusalem at the foot of the Southern Wall, immediately after the Six-Day War. The heads of the Supreme Muslim Council visited the spot and expressed enthusiasm, but in public they leveled charges. (Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office)
In the area from the Southern Wall to the Old City walls, and also to the west of the southern part of the Western Wall, four imposing palaces were discovered from the Umayyad period, the beginning of Muslim rule in Jerusalem.(20) Carved onto the walls of the rooms were pairs of pillars that supported stone arches, extending for the full length of each room, on which the ceiling was laid. In the basement rooms that were excavated at the southwestern corner of one of the palaces was found, among other things, a pillar that had been taken from somewhere else, which bore an engraved inscription of the Tenth Roman Legion. The pillar also bore a Latin inscription with the names of the Roman Caesars Vespasian and Titus, who waged the war to suppress the Great Revolt of the Jews (66-70 CE).
Arab workers at the excavations of the Southern Wall. (Ya’acov Sa’ar, Government Press Office)
Another era is represented by a building from the Middle Ages that abutted the Southern Wall and the Al-Aksa Mosque. Additional structures from the Byzantine period, including rooms, courtyards, and recesses carved in rock, were preserved under the foundations and floors of the Umayyad palaces.
At the foot of the Southern Wall the ancient steps leading to the western Hulda Gate, which served as an entrance to the Temple Mount in Second Temple days. The gates themselves were left sealed and Israel maintained a separation between the excavations near the walls and the surface area of the mount. (Ya’acov Sa’ar, Government Press Office)
One of the spectacular findings was the rediscovery of the Hulda Gates, the two main entrance gates to the Temple Mount in the Second Temple period at the Southern Wall, and the giant staircase that leads to them. The western Hulda Gate, known as the Double Gate, is situated below the Al-Aksa Mosque and at present is closed off like its neighbor, the eastern Hulda Gate. Also discovered nearby was a network of mikvehs which served the Jews who ascended the mount in Second Temple times. Many other findings, from First Temple days to the Ottoman era, were made at the location including lintels with crosses from the Byzantine period, on which seven-branched menorahs were painted in red during the Persian conquest or the early Umayyad era.
9.2 The Excavations at the Foot of the Western Wall (1968-1978)
Background: Two months after the archeological digs at the foot of the Western Wall began, they also reached the southern end of this wall. This occurred to the distress of the Religious Affairs Ministry and the chief rabbis, who had hoped to widen the prayer plaza in this area as well. Over the years, however, the rabbinical establishment came to accept this reality and a division was made: the area to the south of the Mughrabi Gate, along the Western Wall, became a place for archeological excavation, while the area along the Western Wall to the north of the Mughrabi Gate was designated for prayer.
The Muslims’ Charges: The excavations “Judaize” the Western Wall, which is actually part of the Al-Aksa compound and the wall to which Muhammad tethered Al-Buraq in the midst of his Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. The excavations seek to undermine the Western Wall and the stability of the Temple Mount compound with the aim of toppling the mosques.
The Answer to the Charges: The Israeli authorities could not possibly seek to damage the Western Wall, to which the Jewish religion attributes special holiness and about which the Midrash says: “The Shekhinah has never departed from the Western Wall.”(21) When in 1972 some holes were mistakenly drilled in the “Little Western Wall,” the northward extension of the Western Wall, religious and haredi Jewry were in an uproar and the State of Israel set up an investigatory commission to find out how such a thing could have happened.(22) This incident, seemingly minor, illustrates how divorced from reality is the Muslim charge that Israel seeks to topple the Western Wall and subsequently the mosques as well. Visits and inspections at the site in the 1980s and 1990s by UNESCO envoy Prof. Raymond Lamar found no basis for the charge that the excavations were harming the stability of the mount.
Cautionary and Safety Measures Taken by Israel: The digs at the foot of the Western Wall were in fact carried out concurrently with those at the foot of the Southern Wall, and the former, too, were accompanied by a safety committee composed of representatives of the City of Jerusalem, the Defense Ministry, the Labor Ministry, and the archeological team. Later as well, safety supervision was entrusted to a team of professionals, including Technion experts. The excavations were conducted solely at the foot of the Western Wall and did not deviate eastward under the Temple Mount compound.
Informal Muslim Attitudes: In this case, too, the heads of the Wakf and the Supreme Muslim Council visited several times and heard professional explanations from the heads of the archeological team, Mazar and Ben-Dov. The visitors requested that their visit not be publicized, and Israel complied.
Main Archeological Findings: (23) Well-preserved remnants of the abovementioned Herodian road are much in evidence here. The road – Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare at the end of the Second Temple period – is paved with large stone slabs and bordered by curbstones; beneath it are two drainage channels. On the paved road were found building stones of the walls of the Temple Mount that had accumulated there, and that soldiers of the Roman Legion had dismantled and rolled out of the compound after the Temple was burned and the mount conquered. These heavy stones smashed into the paving stones, causing them to sink and even penetrate the drainage channel beneath them.
Near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount were found parts of the Robinson Arch, which the American biblical scholar Edward Robinson first identified in 1838. The arch was built above the paved road as part of an overpass that enabled pedestrians to climb onto the mount from the Herodian road below. Adjacent to it were built smaller and smaller arches southward in a row. This series of arches supported a staircase on which people ascended from the road onto the mount. One of the stones of the Western Wall, under Robinson’s Arch, bears the Hebrew inscription: “When you see this your heart shall rejoice, and their bones shall flourish like grass” (quoted with a slight change from Isaiah 66:14). To this inscription (whose time is not known, though it is generally dated from the Byzantine era onward) the excavators gave differing explanations.
The upper stones of the Western Wall. It is believed that, at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, they fell to the foot of the southern part of the wall, in the area of the archeological digs. UNESCO rejected the claim that the digs were undermining the Temple Mount. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
9.3 The Western Wall Tunnel : The Excavation of the Underground Layers along the Full Length of the Western Wall (1968-1985)
Background: In 1968, the State of Israel, via its Religious Affairs Ministry, began to excavate the full length of the Western Wall. In an initial stage the prayer plaza was widened, and deepened a layer and a half beneath the previous level. This led to the discovery, to the north of the plaza at that time, of Wilson’s Arch, which was investigated by the British engineer Charles Wilson back in 1867. Earth and debris were cleared from the arch, and the excavators began to dig northward toward the obscured parts of the Western Wall. In this endeavor, which ended in 1985, two to three layers of the Western Wall were excavated along its whole length. (In some places it was also uncovered to a height of six or seven layers.)(24)
Workers of the Israel Religious Affairs Ministry at the start of the project to uncover the entire underground length of the Western Wall, early 1970s. The claim that Israel seeks to topple the Western Wall is absurd; Israel has acted to preserve and strengthen the wall. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
The Muslims’ Charges: The excavation undermines the foundations of the Temple Mount mosques and is aimed at toppling them. The excavation also damages the stability of the structures situated above them in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
The Answer to the Charges: Here, too, it should be noted that Israel has no interest in harming the Western Wall, the most precious site to Jews among all the walls of the Temple Mount. Here, too, the charges were investigated several times by experts from the Technion and UNESCO and by engineers from the Religious Affairs Ministry, and it was found that the work had no effect on the stability of the Western Wall. Nevertheless, in several cases a link was found between the stability of structures in the Muslim Quarter and the digs carried out beneath it. Israel took each of these cases seriously and dealt with them immediately.(25)
Cautionary and Safety Measures Taken by Israel: Unlike the digs at the foot of the Southern Wall and the southern part of the Western Wall, which were carried out by the Antiquities Authority, the excavation of the Western Wall Tunnel was performed over the years by the Religious Affairs Ministry, under supervision of the Antiquities Authority and with engineering supervision by the ministry itself. Initially the engineer Meir Kuznits supervised the work, subsequently the engineer Naftali Kidron. Throughout, the ministry’s engineering supervision was assisted by external experts, particularly from the Technion. In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the ministry’s experts also took into account the professional assessments of UNESCO emissary Prof. Raymond Lamar, who submitted reports to his organization about the nature, process, and safety of the digs; some of his recommendations were implemented.
The tunnels’ walls were buttressed with thick concrete girders, which were reinforced with iron beams. At the ground level above the tunnel, there are building foundations from various periods. This ground level consists of a mix of earth and ancient building remnants. For the most part the ground above the excavation site is saturated with organic material that came from cesspools – the bathrooms of those days. The shear strength of the ground in this area changed with every change in the degree of dampness.
Reinforcement operations for existing recesses that were uncovered at the Western Wall Tunnel compound. The reinforcements prevented the houses above from sinking. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
When in the past the cesspools were flooded, or too much rainwater was absorbed into the ground, the stability of some of the buildings in the vicinity was weakened. The excavations in the Western Wall Tunnel were carried out only a few meters under these buildings. Hence the engineers of the Religious Affairs Ministry and of the Supervisory Department of the City of Jerusalem carried out regular surveillance checks of the buildings’ stability, and when it was necessary to stop the work so as to strengthen them, that is what was done. Sometimes engineers of the Wakf, which is officially subordinate to the Jordanian government, were also allowed to take part and the Israeli engineers’ maps were spread before them. In 1984, for example, excavation work in the tunnel was halted to allow the reinforcement of the foundations of the Majlis building, a fourteenth-century Mamluk structure where the Wakf has its offices. Under the ground thick iron nets were spread, and concrete walls were poured onto these. In other cases, building foundations in the area were reinforced with special adhesives or concrete anchors.(26)
Today, when the excavation work of the Western Wall has concluded, once a month a safety committee meets whose members are representatives of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the two external engineers, Antiquities Authority representatives, and a safety adviser. A comprehensive engineering survey was also done; it mapped all the recesses that were excavated and cleaned along the Western Wall Tunnel. In this context problems were dealt with in various ways including bluing, metal anchors, and the injection of lime-based binding material. The engineering survey also mapped all the stones of the Western Wall. The date of each stone’s mapping, its condition, and recommendations on how to treat it were all recorded.
In many cases the reinforcement of the ancient recesses excavated along the Western Wall Tunnel rescued the houses above from sinking and collapse due to natural wear and tear.
In many cases it was the reinforcement of the ancient recesses excavated along the Western Wall Tunnel that rescued the houses above from sinking and collapse due to natural wear and tear. As noted, some of the houses are built on cesspools, which drain garbage and human waste into the ancient recesses and rooms along the tunnel. These recesses were cleaned, treated, and preserved. Some of the owners of these houses rejected a proposal from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to deal with the sewage and sanitation system, or made this conditional on an overall renovation of their homes. In some cases the foundation fulfilled the demand (which included an element of extortion) and devoted large sums to a comprehensive renovation of homes above the tunnel, solely to prevent damage to the houses’ stability, or their collapse and the resultant damage to the findings in the tunnel.(27) It should be noted that Israel did not oppose international supervision and involvement in ensuring the safety and reinforcement of dilapidated buildings above the tunnel. For example, the Egyptian consul and the Turkish ambassador were given tours, and the possibility was raised that they would assist with the matter.(28)
Informal Muslim Attitudes:The main fear of the Wakf and the Supreme Muslim Council was that these excavations and the findings resulting from them might strengthen the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount and weaken the Muslim connection to it. They also frequently charged that the digs were aimed at toppling the mosques. Many of the Israelis involved got the impression that their concern about the stability of the Muslim Quarter buildings was genuine. At the start of the 1970s, the heads of the Wakf and the Supreme Muslim Council unofficially visited the tunnels many times. One of the visits early in that decade also included the Muslim historian Arf al-Arf. He requested that the Israeli side define the nature of the excavation, religious or archeological, and remarked (apparently out of ignorance) that Prof. Mazar’s digs to the south of the mount had not turned up any Jewish findings, only Muslim ones. Some of the participants in this tour asked for confirmation that Israel had no intention to deviate eastward from the north-south route, along which the Western Wall was being excavated for hundreds of meters.(29) In recent years the heads of the Wakf and the Muslim Council were also invited to visit the tunnels, but they repeatedly declined. The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, recalls that during his tenure (since 1995) the Muslim leaders only once accepted an invitation to visit the tunnels and other sites that were under the aegis of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.(30)
A typical recess of the Western Wall Tunnel before engineering and safety modifications. On the ceiling of the vault is an opening that drains sewage and garbage from the building above. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
Main Archeological Findings: (31) About 350 meters of the underground layers of the Western Wall were excavated over the years, north of the open prayer plaza. By 1985, when this work ended, the picture was complete: the Western Wall extends for a good distance. The excavators not only revealed layers of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount compound that once rose to about the same height as the wall does today above the open prayer plaza; they also excavated what was called the “secret passage,” built in the Middle Ages and mentioned in fifteenth-century Mamluk sources. This passage became an entrance to the site of the tunnels. Also excavated was a system of vaults from the Roman period and the Muslim period that extends from the “secret passage” and creates a bridge over the Tyropoeon Valley, which separates between the Temple Mount and the hill where the Jewish and Armenian quarters stand. The bridge leads away from the remnant of a giant stone junction of Second Temple days that is called Wilson’s Arch.
The access tunnel to the Western Wall Tunnel, which was uncovered for the entire length of its 488 meters. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
At the lower level at the end of the “secret passage,” the Herodian Hall was excavated. There catapult stones were found, a sort of mute testimony to the great battle against the Romans. Northward from there was discovered, cleaned, and renovated the largest of the rooms of the Western Wall Tunnel, apparently from the Ayyubid era; in it was placed a model of the Temple Mount and the Temple in the Second Temple period. The excavation of the full length of the Western Wall again revealed the wonders of Herodian-era construction.
In his book on the Western Wall tunnels, the archeologist Dr. Dan Bahat(32) explains that the layers of the Western Wall “were not placed one on top of the other, identically and precisely in a perpendicular line, but by a special method in which each layer was moved inward by about two centimeters from the layer beneath it. This way of laying the stones was aimed at giving an impressive appearance of abundance and stability.” The Herodian layers of the visible Western Wall are one to one and one-fourth meters high; but much more imposing Herodian stones were found along the walls of the tunnels. The largest of these is 13.60 meters long with an estimated depth of 3.5-4.6 meters and a height of 3.3 meters; its weight comes to about six hundred tons. The quarry from which this stone was taken, and other stones of similar dimensions, apparently was located north of the Temple Mount in the area that is higher than the mount, so that the stones did not have to be lifted but instead could be lowered to the right level at a moderate incline.
The stone with the huge dimensions is adjacent to Warren’s Gate, one of the four gates to the Temple Mount at the Western Wall in the late Second Temple period. A bit north of Warren’s Gate is the spot known as “Facing the Holy of Holies.” This is believed to be the closest point to the Temple’s Holy of Holies, which was located on the mount about two thousand years ago. Walking north, one comes to a Mamluk cistern and two shafts that descend beneath the modern walking level to the Second Temple-era street level. Toward the end of the narrow tunnel is another cistern (from the Hasmonean period), an open stretch of road from Second Temple days, and segments where the Western Wall stones were, unlike the other segments, chiseled in natural rock.
One should also mention the unearthing of the foundation layers of the Western Wall in the summer of 2011, at their lowest point near the southern end of the wall. These layers were submerged underground even in the Second Temple era. The archeologists Prof. Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, who uncovered them along a length of eleven meters, note that even the pilgrims of the Second Temple period could not see them. These foundation stones are less smooth than the stones of the Western Wall that rise above the open plaza, and it is evident that Herod’s builders shaped them relatively crudely since they served as foundations and were sunken in the earth.(33)
9.4 The Uncovering of the Hasmonean Channel and the Opening of the Exit Gate to the Via Dolorosa (1987-1996)
Background: The Hasmonean (water) Channel was connected to the Western Wall Tunnel and newly uncovered both to reinvestigate it and, primarily, to use it as an exit route for a tour that begins at Wilson’s Arch, beside the Western Wall prayer plaza, and ends at the Via Dolorosa. The aim was to lead the numerous visitors and tourists through this unique underground site.
Before an exit gate from the Hasmonean Channel was opened, the end point and exit point for the thousands of visitors were the same: the Western Wall plaza. People entered the tunnel, came to its end, and retraced their steps within its narrow space, returning to the plaza. This greatly curtailed the number of visitors to the site. Once a gate was opened at the end of the Hasmonean Channel, visitors could conclude their tour aboveground in the Old City’s markets, and other groups could enter the tunnel without waiting for the previous groups to exit. Hence the number of visitors to the Western Wall Tunnel and the Hasmonean Channel greatly increased. Each year eight hundred thousand people, including both Israeli visitors and foreign tourists, come to these sites.(34)
The continuation of the Western Wall Tunnel: the Hasmonean Channel. Despite the Palestinians’ claim, the channel does not pass under the Temple Mount compound at all. It existed for about nine hundred years before the mosques on the mount were built, having been dug as a waterworks in the Hasmonean era. Israel merely uncovered it anew. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
The Muslims’ Charges: In September 1996, a few hours after Israel opened the exit gate from the Hasmonean Channel to the Via Dolorosa for the public, thousands of incensed Muslims – led by Palestinian policemen – attacked IDF forces and Israeli citizens in most areas of the West Bank. In what came to be called the Western Wall Tunnel riots, fifteen IDF soldiers were killed and about seventy Israeli civilians and soldiers injured. On the Palestinian side there were forty fatalities and over six hundred injured. The riots came hand in hand with fierce proclamations by the Palestinian leadership. Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat called the opening of the gate “a crime against our religion that flouts the peace process and the Oslo accords.”(35) The Arab League declared that “Israel’s aim in opening this gate is to cause the collapse of the Al-Aksa Mosque, so that it can build the Third Temple in its stead.”(36) Spokesmen for the Palestinian Authority, the Jordanian government, as well as the Wakf chief in East Jerusalem, Abd al-Azim Salhub, made similar statements. As the rhetoric got more and more virulent, the terminology changed as well. The Hasmonean Channel came to be called the Al-Aksa Tunnel, and the Palestinian demonstrators were dubbed “warriors of Al-Aksa.”(37)
Yasser Arafat denied the existence of a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount and accused the Israeli government of instigating attacks on the mosques there. (AP Photo)
The Answer to the Charges: The Western Wall Tunnel and the Hasmonean Channel run northward from the open prayer plaza to the foot of the Western Wall. The Western Wall Tunnel, which reopened the lower layers of the Western Wall along a length of 350 meters, was an excavation of preexisting underground recesses. Its continuation, the Hasmonean Channel, which was linked to the tunnel and which also runs north-south, was not excavated in our time but, rather, newly uncovered. Originally this channel was hewn out of rock more than two thousand years ago. A researcher, Charles Warren, already floated on its waters in the nineteenth century.(38) All that Israeli archeologists, as well as personnel of the Religious Affairs Ministry, did was to clear the channel of mud and long-accumulated cesspool waters, reinforce it with iron and cement, and make this spectacular archeological site available to the public.
Like the Western Wall Tunnel, the Hasmonean Channel runs along a north-south axis; but unlike the tunnel, of which it is a continuation, it extends further northward, for another 80 meters, toward the northwestern end of the Temple Mount wall, under the Convent of the Sisters of Zion on the Via Dolorosa. The charge that the excavation of the channel endangers the mosques is simply a tall tale. The dig does not pass under the Temple Mount compound at all, and the channel existed about nine hundred years before the Temple Mount mosques were built, when it was dug as a waterworks in the Hasmonean era (from the second to the first century BCE) – or in some researchers’ view even earlier. The allegation that the excavation desecrates a Muslim holy place is likewise baseless, since even according to the maximalist approach, which regards the entire Temple Mount compound and its walls as a Muslim holy place, the Hasmonean Channel does not intersect with the walls or the mount but runs separately and northward from them. In any case, it is a fact that the Hasmonean Channel existed long before the Al-Aksa Mosque. Even after the mosque was built, the channel never undermined, let alone destroyed it, any more than the Western Wall Tunnel ever has.
Note also that the Muslims discussed (albeit informally) with the Israeli authorities a “deal” whereby Solomon’s Stables would be used as a mosque in return for the opening and quiet use of the Hasmonean Channel along with an exit from it. The fact that such a deal was mutually explored, and the readiness in principle to consider the opening and use of the Hasmonean Channel, reveals that the Muslims did not really believe the channel constituted a danger to the mosques. If they had, they would never have negotiated about opening it.
The fact that the Muslims discussed a deal to enable the opening of the Hasmonean Channel in return for converting Solomon’s Stables into a mosque reveals that they did not really believe the channel constituted a danger to the Al-Aksa Mosque.
Cautionary and Safety Measures Taken by Israel: Here, too, periodic safety inspections are carried out. The reinforcements are minimal because the Hasmonean Channel is a superb aqueduct hewn from rock that sustained itself, until being uncovered anew, for over two thousand years without incurring any sort of damage. Most of the alteration of the tunnel route was done so that visitors could walk through it safely and included railings, lighting, and other safety accessories.
Informal Muslim Attitudes: Such attitudes have not been documented, but at the end of June 1997 the Arab League decided to designate an annual day in September (the 25th) for identification with Jerusalem. On this day schools were to teach the Muslim history of Jerusalem and ways to counter efforts to Judaize the city.(39)
Main Archeological Findings: (40) The Hasmonean Channel is about 80 meters long. Its average height is 7 meters (12 at the highest point) and its width is 1.2 meters. The channel was dug as an open canal from the ground surface downward; subsequently it was covered with heavy stone slabs that are still visible. The aqueduct segment on which visitors walk today is the southern segment of the original aqueduct, which led out from the northern part of the city, next to the Damascus Gate. There, apparently, the cesspool waters of the Tyropoeon stream were drained toward a Hasmonean fortress that was called birah and stood beside the Hasmonean Temple Mount. Later, evidently in Herod’s time, a large pool was installed at the northern end of the aqueduct to hoard its waters. For unclear reasons, in Second Temple days this pool was given the name Struthion, which means “lark” in Greek. Most of the pool is under the Convent of the Sisters of Zion on the Via Dolorosa. In the late 1860s, the British researcher Charles Warren visited the pool and, on an improvised raft, floated a few dozen meters into the southern part of the aqueduct south of the pool. His voyage alarmed the Sisters of Zion, who feared that unknown persons would try to infiltrate the convent via the part of the pool that was in their territory; hence they built a wall that divided the pool in two. The north-south walking route within the channel is at a moderate upward incline.
9.5 The Excavation and Preparation of the Passages Under the Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue on Haggai Street (2004-2008)
Background: (41) The Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue stands some 60 meters west of the Western Wall. The site served as a synagogue owned by the Shomrei Hachomot (Guardians of the Walls) kollel (institute for fulltime advanced Jewish study) from the time it was built in 1917 (on a plot of land the kollel purchased from the Khaladi family in 1867) until it was abandoned during the 1936 riots. Up to the 1930s, in this vicinity and other parts of what is now called the Muslim Quarter, thousands of Jews lived and maintained numerous Torah and charity institutions. The synagogue stood intact for only thirty-one years, and then in 1948 was blown up by the Jordanians along with other Old City synagogues. Complete sections of the building, however, survived. In 1993, the ruined structure was purchased by the family of American Jewish philanthropist Irving Moskowitz. In 2004, the Antiquities Authority began to dig beneath the synagogue’s remains and unearthed priceless findings mainly from the late Muslim period. The synagogue itself was reconstructed with the help of old photographs and rebuilt with the cooperation and supervision of the Antiquities Authority.
The Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue before the Arabs destroyed it, early twentieth century. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
The Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue after the Arabs destroyed it; the Dome of the Rock is in the background. (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
The Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue after its renovation and reconstruction (Nadav Shragai). The synagogue overlooks the Temple Mount from the west. The work of renovating has no connection to the mount, which is tens of meters distant from it.
The Muslims’ Charges: “Israel is digging clandestinely under the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount, with the aim of erecting the Third Temple….These excavations mark a very dangerous phase in the history of the mosque” (Sheikh Raed Salah, January 21, 2007).(42) For years Muslim circles have been disseminating pictures through the media of the excavations being done under the Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue. They claim this is proof that Israel is digging under the Temple Mount compound.
The Answer to the Charges: The Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue stands at the southern end of Haggai Street, not far from the covered passage through which tourists and visitors enter the open prayer plaza of the Western Wall. As mentioned, the synagogue that has been reconstructed and rebuilt by the Antiquities Authority and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation is about 60 meters west of the Western Wall. The excavation beneath it not only is not being conducted under the Temple Mount but does not even extend as far as the Western Wall itself. The secondary “excavation,” which actually is not an excavation but an unearthing and cleaning operation under existing vaults, was initiated to link the area of the excavations under Ohel Yitzchak to the entry rooms to the Western Wall Tunnel, which stand a few dozen meters to the west of the Western Wall.
Hence this excavation, too, is not being done under the mount and does not even reach the wall. An educational center on the subject of prayer is being planned at Ohel Yitzchak, along with a museum for bar mitzvah youth. The purpose of the underground link between the two facilities is to enable some visitors to the Western Wall Tunnel, mainly children, to end the tour in the area adjacent to the wall and not, like most visitors, on the Via Dolorosa. The excavations at the place are not being done surreptitiously as the Muslims claim. They have been displayed more than once to the media, and publications about them have appeared on the Antiquities Authority’s website and at professional conferences that are open to the general public.
Here, too, as with the Western Wall Tunnel, the excavation actually salvaged the houses located above the distorted vaults, which were in danger of collapse due to their age and condition.
Cautionary and Safety Measures Taken by Israel: (43) In the underground recesses revealed during the excavation and cleaning operations under Ohel Yitzchak, it also was found that some of the vaults suffered from major distortions and some of their weight-bearing capacity had been severely damaged. Here, too, as with several of the rooms of the Western Wall Tunnel, the excavation actually salvaged the houses located above the distorted vaults, which were in danger of collapse due to their age and condition. Because of the uncertain stability of the vaults, it was decided not to carry out any operations on them until they had been fully supported with steel bracing designed for heavy loads. This bracing was planned to withstand loads of up to ten tons per meter. Once the bracing of the vaults was finished, preservation operations were performed that also included dismantlement and rebuilding or recasting of some of the most distorted vaults. The bracing was done by strengthening the steel with reinforced concrete in the entire area of the vaults that required support, as well as a set of steel pillars with steel webbing above them. Within the steel webbing a steel mesh was emplaced so as to reduce to a minimum the possibility of the sliding of some of the vaults. Above the steel webbing was added a contact level made of a rigid cement substance, thereby creating a continuity of support for the vaults.
The underground recesses under the destroyed Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue, which the Jordanians blew up and the Israelis rehabilitated. These recesses are connected to the Western Wall Tunnel compound, but despite Muslim claims they do not reach the Temple Mount and indeed are tens of meters distant from it. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
Informal Muslim Attitudes: None have been documented.
Main Archeological Findings: (44) Under the remains of the Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue the archeologists Dr. Chaim Baraba, Tawfik Da’adla, and Dr. Avi Solomon discovered a large bathhouse from the Mamluk period (apparently from the fourteenth century CE). The dressing room was fully preserved, and remnants were found of the heating stoves that radiated steam, as well as a dual system of flow channels that brought warm air into the bathhouse chambers. In the opinion of Jerusalem district archeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch, this is the most complete Mamluk structure to have been excavated in Jerusalem. Also discovered at the site were remains of walls and a staircase from the ancient Roman period; walls from the late Roman period; parts of the secondary cardo(45) from that period, with paving stones of impressive size (1.6 meters long and 1 meter wide); plaster flooring and potsherds from the ancient Muslim period; and building remnants from the Crusader-Ayyubid period.
9.6 The Inauguration of the Hurva Synagogue (March 15, 2010)
Background: (46) The rebuilt Hurva Synagogue (its original official name is Beit Yaakov), in the heart of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, was inaugurated in a state ceremony on March 15, 2010. In the first half of the twentieth century the Hurva Synagogue became a symbol and a center for religious and national events for the Jews of Jerusalem. The synagogue was very splendid, widely renowned, and from a scenic standpoint it became part of the Jerusalem skyline along with the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Muslim Dome of the Rock.
The Hurva Synagogue (on the right) is higher than the Temple Mount mosques and hundreds of meters away. Its restoration never threatened the stability of the mosques. The Hurva was renovated and reinaugurated in 2010, after the Jordanians had blown it up in 1948. (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
In 1700, the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem built a synagogue in the area where eventually the Hurva Synagogue would stand. This house of prayer was erected on the eve of the arrival in Jerusalem from Poland of Rabbi Yehuda Hasid and a group of his students. Twenty years later a Muslim mob destroyed the synagogue and the surrounding houses (“Court of the Ashkenazim”) because of the nonpayment of debts for loans that were taken by Rabbi Yehuda Hasid’s students. The site remained in ruins until the mid-nineteenth century, coming to be known as the “Court of Destruction” (hurva). In 1836, the Ottomans gave Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Tsoref a firman to build a small synagogue at the site (the Menachem Tsion Synagogue), and in 1855 the Ottomans also gave the philanthropist Moses Montefiore a firman to build another synagogue there, larger and more imposing; this is the Beit Yaakov Synagogue, also known as Hurva. It was inaugurated in 1864 and gradually became a center for Jewish life, both in old and renewed Jerusalem. In Hurva the Ashkenazi chief rabbis of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel were appointed. From Hurva a call to rescue the Jews of Europe was issued by a prayer-and-fasting assembly of hundreds of rabbis; at Hurva prayers were held for the coronation of George V as king of England; and there, too, Zeev Jabotinsky staged a recruitment rally for the Jewish Legion. Even Herzl visited the place in 1898, viewing the city from the balcony that surrounded the dome of the building. Shortly before the Jewish Quarter fell and its defenders were captured by Jordan in May 1948, the Jordanian Legion blew up the synagogue along with other synagogues and Torah institutions in the Old City.
Shortly before the Jewish Quarter fell and its defenders were captured by Jordan in May 1948, the Jordanian Legion blew up the Hurva Synagogue along with other synagogues and Torah institutions in the Old City.
The commander of the Jordanian Legion battalion that conquered the quarter, Abdullah al-Tal, put it in these terms: “For the first time in a thousand years, not a single Jew remained in the Jewish Quarter and not a single building remained there that was not damaged. This makes the return of the Jews impossible.”(47) Yet in 1967 the Jews returned, and in 2004 the Israeli government began to raise up Hurva from the ruins. By 2010 that task was completed.
The Muslims’ Charges: The mufti of the Palestinian territories, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, charged that the Jews had rebuilt the Hurva Synagogue as preparation for the building of the Temple.(48) Sheikh Raed Salah spoke of an Israeli attempt to encircle the Al-Aksa Mosque with synagogues.(49) The supreme sharia judge of the Palestinian Authority, Taysir al-Tamimi, said that “in keeping with the Israeli and Jewish plans, which have been approved by the Israeli government, from the Hurva Synagogue Israel can storm the Al-Aksa Mosque and destroy it.”(50) Even Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas said regarding the synagogue’s inauguration that “saving Jerusalem is a personal duty for all of us and we are determined to protect the capital of Palestine.”(51)
For two days after the inauguration, riots erupted in many parts of the West Bank and with particular intensity in Jerusalem. Again it was charged that Israel was aiming to harm the Al-Aksa Mosque and build the Third Temple in its place. Khaled Mashaal, chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, declared that “the inauguration of the Hurva Synagogue spells the destruction of the Al-Aksa Mosque and the building of the Temple.”(52) Khatam Abd al-Kadr, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio in the Fatah movement, claimed in an interview with Palestinian radio that the presence at the inauguration of members of Israel’s governing coalition attested that “this is a first step toward the building of the Third Temple on the ruins of the Al-Aksa Mosque.”(53) On the day after the inauguration, a rumor circulated in eastern Jerusalem that Israel had dug a tunnel linking the basement of the Hurva Synagogue to the Temple Mount compound.(54)
The Answer to the Charges: Given the Hurva Synagogue’s location and its height relative to the Temple Mount, it is not even theoretically possible that its construction could undermine the stability of the mosques. The synagogue’s foundations were dug at a point dozens of meters higher than the mount compound. As for the rumor of a tunnel leading from the synagogue to the mount, it was a product of fantasy. The Hurva Synagogue is situated in the Jewish Quarter about 400 meters southwest of the mount, and its ground level is about 50 meters higher than that of the mosques.
Concealed by the “Al-Aksa is in danger” incitement campaign is the fact that the Hurva Synagogue far exceeds the height of the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. In 1855, with the granting of the firman to build Hurva, the Jews decided to erect a large, magnificent synagogue in the Hurva courtyard that would be comparable to other beautiful religious edifices in Jerusalem. A researcher of Hurva and the period, Arie Morgenstern, recently discovered(55) that the Ottoman architect Assad Effendi happened to be in Jerusalem that same year, having been sent from Istanbul by the sultan to supervise a repair of the Temple Mount mosques. Assad Effendi agreed to the Jews’ request that he plan and supervise the synagogue’s construction. It appears that it was the involvement of the sultan’s architect himself that led to the plan’s approval. Previously, the Muslim authorities had not allowed the building of prominent religious structures that would exceed their own structures in height and stature.
The magnificent Hurva Synagogue, approved in 1855, was planned and supervised by the Ottoman sultan’s architect Assad Effendi.
The great height of the Hurva Synagogue – 24 meters from floor to dome – was mortifying to its Muslim neighbors and the Muslim clergy. With the Jewish Quarter’s fall to Jordanian forces in the War of Independence, the Jordanian Legion could have used the Hurva Synagogue along with its neighbor, the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue (also known as Nissan Beck), as command posts; instead it hastened to blow them up and erase what had been an impressive Jewish presence facing the Temple Mount.(56) When Hurva was rebuilt by the Israeli government, and indeed reconstructed in its original form, its great height and splendor once again was a bitter pill for the Muslims. That is the real reason for their wrath over its reconstruction and inauguration. Clear indicationsof this could be found in the Palestinian media and various statements by Palestinian leaders. For example, on March 16, 2010, the Ramallah newspaper Al-Ayyam published a cartoon in which the synagogue appears as a high, huge mushroom that overshadows the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa Mosque,which appear beside it as two particularly low structures.(57) That same day Palestinian television broadcast the anti-Israeli documentary Synagogues Surround Al-Aksa, while Azzat al-Shark, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said that “the building of the Hurva Synagogue is tantamount to a declaration of war, since it constitutes a direct threat to the Al-Aksa Mosque.”(58) Other Muslim spokesmen made statements in the same spirit.
Informal Muslim Attitudes: None have been documented.
Main Archeological Findings: As noted, there is no connection between the rebuilding of the Hurva Synagogue and the stability of the Temple Mount mosques, just as there is none between the rescue dig, which was mandated by Israeli law before construction could begin in a historical vicinity, and the Temple Mount compound. The rescue dig under the Hurva Synagogue uncovered sections of walls and fragments of pottery from the First Temple period. From the late Second Temple or Herodian era, remnants of a residence including rooms and mikvehs were found; from the Byzantine era, the stone pavement of a narrow street with an entirely preserved arch above it was uncovered. Building remains dating from the ancient Muslim period to the Ottoman era were unearthed as well. A surprise awaited the excavators when they came upon a forgotten weapons cache including grenades and mortar bombs – left there by the Irgun underground while they were fighting to eject British rule from the Land of Israel in pre-statehood days.
9.7 The Excavations at the Mughrabi Gate Access Ramp (2007)
Background: The Mughrabi Gate access ramp was an earthen ramp that led – until its partial collapse in 2004 – to the Mughrabi Gate, which opens from the southern part of the Western Wall into the Temple Mount plaza. The gate and the ramp that led to it are known as the Mughrabi Quarter, in which about 650 people, mostly North African Muslims, lived until it was evacuated and leveled by Israel after the Six-Day War. This was done to prepare the prayer plaza at the foot of the Western Wall for hundreds of thousands of Jewish worshippers. The narrow Western Wall alley that the Mughrabi homes had bordered could accommodate no more than a few hundred worshippers.(59)
Since 1967, the Mughrabi Gate has been the only entrance gate to the Temple Mount compound through which non-Muslims can pass, including Israeli Jews and Jewish tourists, Christians, and others. The gate also serves the security forces in times of crisis. And the Mughrabi Gate is the only entrance to the compound whose keys are in the hands of the Israel Police.(60)
The earthen ramp that served as a bridge to the Mughrabi Gate, after weather conditions caused its collapse in the winter of 2004. (courtesy of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
The temporary wooden bridge that Israel built to replace the collapsed ramp. It is not used by Muslim worshippers, who have many other entrances to the Temple Mount. The Mughrabi Gate is the sole entrance to the Temple Mount for Jews, tourists, and Israeli security forces since the Six-Day War. (Western Wall Heritage Foundation)
On February 14, 2004, as a result of an earthquake and snowfall that damaged the stability of the ramp, a segment of its northern retaining wall collapsed, as well as its northern section.(61) The landslide had to be fenced off and dealt with immediately. In a short time a temporary wooden bridge was planned and built so that people could keep entering the Temple Mount through the Mughrabi Gate. At the same time, planning began for a permanent solution to enable access to the mount in place of the collapsed structure.
In November 2006, the Local Planning Committee of the City of Jerusalem approved the construction of a permanent bridge, then issued a building permit, subject to a few conditions. These measures sparked protests over the planning, political, and archeological aspects. The Ir Amim movement(62) claimed, for example, that a detailed city building plan was required, which should be made available for public objections before the building permit was issued. The government’s legal adviser affirmed that a city building plan should be prepared for the new access ramp in a transparent planning procedure.
In light of this assessment, then-Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski canceled the building permit. In October 2007, the District Planning and Building Committee decided to open the updated report for public objections, and in May 2008 it was approved with a number of restrictions. The National Planning and Building Council approved and authorized the plan as well.(63) Given its political sensitivity, however, (as of January 2012) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed its implementation(64) even though a building permit had already been issued.(65)
The archeological rescue digs of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which enabled the building of the Mughrabi Bridge to replace the collapsed ramp. Israel allowed UNESCO, Turkey, and anyone else who so desired to visit the place. (courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
Hand-in-hand with the planning procedure, whose aim was to create a permanent replacement for the collapsed ramp, in February 2007 the Antiquities Authority began an archeological dig in the vicinity of the collapsed ramp in light of the various construction options being considered for the alternative bridge. The Antiquities Authority set several conditions for the alternative bridge, which was planned to extend from the area of the Archeological Garden at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount to the Mughrabi Gate: (1) that the bridge would not obstruct the mount, (2) that rescue digs would be conducted at the site as mandated by the law, before the bridge was built, and (3) that the location of the columns supporting the bridge would be decided only after the digs, since no one could know what antiquities would be discovered there.
Among the Palestinians, the Islamic Movement in Israel, and particularly Hamas, the Antiquities Authority’s activity at the Mughrabi Gate access ramp triggered a systematic campaign that portrayed the work as an Israeli attempt to destroy the Al-Aksa Mosque.
Among the Palestinians, the Islamic Movement in Israel, and particularly Hamas, the Antiquities Authority’s activity at the site triggered a systematic campaign that portrayed the work being conducted at the Mughrabi Gate, and the different plans pertaining to it, as an Israeli attempt to destroy the Al-Aksa Mosque.
The Muslims’ Charges: On February 4, 2007, head of the Hamas political bureau Khaled Mashaal held a press conference in Damascus that addressed, among other things, “the attack Israel is mounting on the Al-Aksa Mosque.”(66) Mashaal charged that the “Israeli enemy” was planning a further crime against the mosque, namely, the destruction of the Mughrabi Gate access ramp, which was a “historical pathway to the Al-Aksa Mosque.” He called on the Palestinians to awaken and focus their struggle on Israel. Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh accused the “Israeli occupation” of continuing its aggression against the Al-Aksa Mosque.(67) Hamas’ satellite TV channel devoted most of its broadcasts at this time to short incendiary clips about what it called “the danger hovering over Jerusalem.” The channel featured pictures of the renovation and excavation work at the site and drummed home the message of “the Israeli plot against the Al-Aksa Mosque.”(68)
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas was not to be outdone by Hamas. He proclaimed that “what Israel is doing at the Mughrabi Gate demonstrates its intentions and its deeds, planned in advance and entailing the destruction of the Muslim holy places.”(69) PA television also joined the party and repeatedly broadcast talk shows and songs about the “danger to Al-Aksa.” On February 4, it charged that Israeli settlers and “Zionist militias” had begun digging under the mosque and were threatening to destroy it.(70) Rafik al-Husseini, director of Abbas’ bureau, visited Al-Aksa along with the heads of the Wakf and promised to provide all necessary assistance to the struggle against what he called the Jewish excavations under the Temple Mount.(71) Similar declarations were voiced in Damascus, where it was claimed that Israel had already demolished parts of the mount. Syrian cartoons in Tishrin in mid-February showed a stereotypical Jew digging beside Al-Aksa, about to release the safety catch of a grenade that would blow up the Middle East.(72)
Sheikh Raed Salah crossed all the lines with a sermon in Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz neighborhood where he intoned that “Israeli history is filthy with blood. They want to build their Temple when our blood is on their clothes, on their doors, and in their food and drink. Our blood passes from one general to another terrorist general.” Hundreds of Israeli Arabs came to the area of the Dung Gate, about a hundred meters from the Mughrabi Gate, to demonstrate against the Israeli project. Attorney Zahi Nujidat, spokesman of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, said: “We think the aim of these activities is to declare Al-Aksa a synagogue.”(73) Muhammad Zeidan, former chairman of the Higher Monitoring Committee, added that the digs were endangering the mosque.(74) It was charged as well that the Al-Buraq Mosque near the gate stood to be harmed.
The Answer to the Charges: Until its partial collapse, the Mughrabi Gate access ramp separated the prayer plaza at the foot of the Western Wall to the north from the area of the archeological digs, at the foot of the wall, to the south. The site that is the target of Muslim criticism borders the women’s section of the Western Wall to the north, the upper plaza of the wall to the west, the Archeological Park to the south, and the Temple Mount to the east.
The work on the section of the ramp that collapsed, the archeological digs at this spot, and the building plan for the Mughrabi Bridge that is to replace the temporary wooden bridge that replaced the collapsed ramp—all are in a vicinity very close to the Temple Mount, about 80 meters north of its southwestern corner and not far from the Western Wall. Yet the work has not extended into the Temple Mount compound and is not planned to do so.
Moreover, in the face of Muslim sensitivities and the wild incitement, which sought to link the activity at the site to a supposed plan to dig under the Temple Mount and thereby bring down the mosques, the Antiquities Authority and the Israeli planning institutions went so far as to bend the law. According to Israel’s Antiquities Law, an item is defined as an antiquity if it was created before the year 1700. Yet, in line with the demands of UNESCO and Ir Amim, it was decided also to preserve items of more recent vintage at the digs, including relics of the Mughrabi Quarter at the end of the Ottoman period and the Jordanian period, from less than a century ago.
And in keeping with a governmental decree, the Israeli archeologists also deliberately avoided excavating the Berkeley Gate even though, in terms of archeological logic and scientific interest, it would have been very rewarding to do so. This gate,(75) dating from Second Temple days, lies under the Mughrabi Gate. At present, only a section of its huge lintel on its external side has been revealed. This section of the lintel is visible from the women’s section of the Western Wall and from a room that is under the Mughrabi Gate. The gate was built in Herod’s time during the expansions of the Temple, and some identify it with what the Mishnah calls the “Kipunus Gate.”(76)
The Muslims, despite their protestations, were not materially harmed by the collapse of the Mughrabi Gate access ramp and the building of the wooden bridge that serves as its temporary replacement; since 1967 the Mughrabi Gate has been used solely by non-Muslims as an entrance to the Temple Mount. The Muslims use many other gates to the mount, such as the Shalshelet or Cotton Merchants’ gates. Indeed, it was only Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall plaza who were inconvenienced, since the building of the wooden bridge reduced the area of the women’s section by about 50 percent. This has caused serious crowding, especially during holidays.
Regarding the supposed harm to the Al-Buraq Mosque, this underground mosque is on the eastern side of the Western Wall behind the Berkeley Gate, which Israeli archeologists refrained from excavating. There is only access to the internal side of the gate and to the Al-Buraq Mosque from within the Temple Mount via a staircase to the north of the Mughrabi Gate. Despite Muslim claims, the mosque is not on the western side of the Western Wall under the ramp of the Mughrabi Gate.
It is true that in 2004, when the collapse of the Mughrabi Gate access ramp occurred, a small room was discovered that included an alcove covered by adome, a sort of Muslim prayer niche (mihrab) facing south. In the view of Jerusalem district archeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch,(77) however, themihrab indicates that a Mamluk or Ottoman prayer structure stood at the spot; it was destroyed many years ago and nothing remained of it but the mihrab itself.(78) At that time Prof. Dan Bahat gave a similar assessment to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.(79)
At the end of February 2007, a delegation of UNESCO experts came to Israel for four days to inspect the excavations at the Mughrabi Gate access ramp. On March 12, the delegation published a report(80) that completely exonerated Israel of damaging or threatening the Al-Aksa Mosque. Among other things, the delegation wrote: “No work is being conducted inside the Haram es-Sharif, nor may the nature of the works underway be reported, at this stage, as constituting a threat to the stability of the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque” (para. 17). “The work area,” the delegation explained, “ends at approximately 10 metres distance from the Western Wall. It is conducted with light equipment, picks and shovels, and it is supervised and documented according to professional standards” (para. 18). “The Jerusalem Municipality is responsible for planning and construction in the Old City, as well as for the infrastructure and its maintenance” (para. 23) (emphasis in original). “It was clearly and repeatedly stated, both by the IAA and by the religious authorities consulted by the mission, that there are no plans to conduct any excavation under the Haram es-Sharif” (para. 30).(81)
Ten days later, on March 21, 2007, a delegation of experts from Turkey visited the site. They, too, were persuaded that there was no damage from the Mughrabi Gate access ramp excavations and no connection between them and the stability of the Temple Mount mosques. The delegation, however, refrained from publishing these conclusions so as to maintain Turkey’s good relations with Arab states, and the group’s leader ceased to address the issue.(82)
Cautionary and Safety Measures Taken by Israel: Immediately after the ramp collapsed, the area was fenced off and access to it by visitors and worshippers was denied. As we saw, the Israeli archeologists showed great deference to the Muslims’ complaints, despite the incitement that accompanied them. In the excavations’ first days, in an attempt to defuse the suspicions and agitation, the Antiquities Authority positioned cameras at the excavation site that continuously broadcast the activity there.(83) At a certain stage the work was stopped by a directive of the minister responsible for the Antiquities Authority at that time, Raleb Majadele. As noted, Prime Minister Netanyahu declined to approve the start of construction of the new bridge because of the evident sensitivity of the site, as well as a demand by Jordan, which was involved in the planning, to carry out the construction itself.(84) Cabinet ministers and senior officials on the operative governmental level believe the prime minister should give a green light to this project. The question of the safety of the temporary wooden bridge has also been raised publicly. Both the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the Jerusalem municipality feared for its stability and demanded its quick replacement with a stable permanent bridge. In May 2011, Shlomo Eshkol, chief engineer of the City of Jerusalem, strongly urged the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to dismantle the temporary bridge due to its “faulty structural condition.”(85)
Twice a date was announced for replacing the temporary bridge with a permanent one (June and November 2011), but the action was postponed each time out of concern that this would harm Israel’s relations with Egypt and Jordan. Both nations were suffering the effects of instability in light of the revolution in Egypt and the political changes in neighboring Arab countries known as the “Arab Spring.” Israel feared that the anger of the masses in both countries, who at that very time were demonstrating in the streets over other issues, would be directed at the Jewish state and would endanger the peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt. In the end, the Israeli government decided in December 2011 to renovate and strengthen the temporary bridge until a more suitable opportunity arose to replace it with a permanent bridge.
Informal Muslim Attitudes: None have been documented.
Main Archeological Findings: (86) The Mughrabi Gate access ramp excavations that began on February 11, 2007, revealed remnants of houses from the Mughrabi Quarter that were there until 1967. By July the remains of about twenty rooms were unearthed. Ceramics as well as coins from the Ottoman period, which date the time of the building of the rooms, were discovered under their floors. On the floors themselves were many items from the twentieth century including bronze basins, cooking and table utensils, glass bottles, shoes, and so on. Numerous coins, mostly Jordanian dinars, were also found.
At the northern part of the ramp, the excavation reached the level of the Western Wall plaza. An area was dug there beneath a layer from the Ottoman period, where the walls of the houses from this era were built upon walls from the Mamluk period and on even older walls, from the twelfth to thirteenth centuries CE. These remnants led archeologists to hypothesize that there had been continuous settlement since the neighborhood’s founding. As noted, the remains of a mihrab of a prayer building, destroyed at an unknown time, were also found buried there.
9.8 The Archeological Digs at the City of David Since 1967
Background: Immediately after wresting Jerusalem from the Jebusites and making it the capital of his kingdom, King David gave the name City of David to the Jebusites’ Fortress of Zion.(87) It is mentioned in the Bible forty-three times, mainly in reference to the city’s fortress.(88) Gradually, however, the name became synonymous with Jerusalem itself. Over the past 150 years archeologists of various nations have excavated the southeastern hill that slopes down from the Temple Mount, and have confirmed the site’s identification with the biblical city, the ancient historical nucleus of Jerusalem. These brief words can hardly do justice to the richness and importance of the findings unearthed over time in the City of David, “the city where everything began.” In the area that has been excavated, chapters of the Bible were written, prophets prophesized, and “fateful events occurred whose effects resonate up to the present in cultures of both East and West.”(89) Only 160 years ago Jerusalem guides still pointed to the area beside the Jaffa Gate as the place where the biblical events occurred. The archeological research at the City of David, however, has proved beyond doubt that it is the location of the ancient city.
Archeological excavations have been conducted by fourteen different teams under four regimes: Ottoman, British, Jordanian, and Israeli.(90) Their results are spread over tens of thousands of pages in scholarly publications in various languages, and there is hardly space to describe them here. Our focus, in the context of the “Al-Aksa is in danger” libel, is on the excavations at the site since 1967, the era of Israeli rule. These digs have yielded a profusion of fascinating findings that shed new light on the history of ancient Jerusalem and its place in Jewish history and that of other peoples. The most recent discovery is a pair of streets, one running east and the other west, that ascend from the Shiloach Pool northward toward the Temple Mount. Also found under the eastern street was a drainage channel, documented in the writings of Josephus, where the last of the rebels met their deaths when trying to save themselves from the Romans.(91)
These digs, however, have further stoked Muslim criticism and incitement against Israel and its rule in Jerusalem. Again the incitement centers on the supposed danger to Al-Aksa and the Temple Mount compound, ignoring the great distance between the excavations and the mount. Here, too, the inciters deny the Jewish history involved and charge that “the process of damaging Silwan village is not new, as it began at the time when the Al-Aksa Mosque was conceived as a target at the start of the occupation of Jerusalem.” As the Ramallah-based Al-Ayyam went on to allege in May 2009: “In an initial stage, the area of the Silwan spring [the Silwan tunnel] was Judaized despite the fact that it is a Muslim wakf, and various legends were affixed to it, with Talmudic texts and fabricated claims about a Jewish historical presence and temple in the vicinity.”(92)
Two parts of the Herodian street that ascended from the Shiloach Pool toward the Western Wall. The street did not reach the Temple Mount, and its uncovering did not endanger it. (Photos: Vladimir Neichin, courtesy of the City of David, Ancient Jerusalem archive)
The Elad organization’s involvement in the excavations began in the early 1990s. Its initiative to set up a visitors center nearby (and receipt of a license to do so from the City of Jerusalem), together with the Antiquities Authority’s request that the organization finance rescue digs at the sites designated for development, contributed in no small part to the archeological research at the City of David. Elad’s involvement, however, also upped the ante of criticism, since the organization also purchased land and houses in the City of David and populated them with Jews. The criticism made no distinction between political disagreements about the wisdom of this move and Elad’s great contribution to the unearthing of Jerusalem’s past. Worth noting here are statements of archeologists Prof. Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, who excavated at the site and were impressed that
the Elad organization was able to leverage the new and surprising archeological discoveries for the development of tourism in the vicinity…very energetically recruiting funds for continuing the digs and the research, for the preservation and architectural development of the sites unearthed by the digs, and in this regard Elad’s activity is without precedent in the history of assistance to archeological research in the city.(93)
The Muslims’ Charges: In recent years it has been charged again and again that the digs in the City of David undermine the stability of some of the residences above them. Sheikh Raed Salah and other Muslim elements denounced a plan to excavate the full length of the ancient Herodian stepped-stone street that was discovered on the slope of the City of David. The street ascends from the City of David northward to the southwestern corner of the Western Wall, and continues from there northward along the wall. Muslim critics claim that not only does Israel lack any right to excavate the location or to rule in Jerusalem at all, but, again, they allege that this dig, if carried out, will imperil the Temple Mount mosques. Two petitions(94) were submitted to the Israel Supreme Court in 2008, one against excavating the route of the Herodian-era drainage channel and the second against a dig in the vicinity of the Givati parking lot, which is at the foot of the Dung Gate. The petitioners, Palestinian residents of Silwan, demanded that the court order a group of official Israeli bodies, which had operational and legal authority at the site, to cease their work.(95) In the context of these petitions it was claimed that the digs were being carried out illegally, carelessly, and unprofessionally in a way that jeopardized the stability of the walls of nearby houses. Another accusation was that the excavations constituted the setting of a boundary and an invasion of the petitioners’ lands.
The Answer to the Charges: The excavation sites are hundreds of meters distant from the Temple Mount, and the digs pose no danger to either the mount or the mosques. The declared and actual goal of the digs in the City of David is to uncover the location’s past as the ancient nucleus of Jerusalem, and to reveal the histories of all the peoples who have ruled Jerusalem as reflected in the relics of the various periods. Nor does the plan to excavate the Herodian stepped-stone street and the drainage channel beneath it, which ascend from the City of David layer to that of the digs at the foot of the Western and Southern walls, affect the stability of the mount. This ancient path links up with a segment of the Herodian street at the southwestern corner of the mount’s walls, where it has been exposed and visible for many years. The drainage ditch running under it ascends from the Shiloach Pool to the foot of the Western Wall for a length of some 600 meters. Within the channel were found, along with Second Temple-era coins and cooking utensils, the beautifully preserved sword of a Roman legionnaire, a stone tool with a rare engraving of the Temple’s menorah, and a gold earring that may have been sewn onto one of the garments of the Temple priests. At the northern end of the channel, under Robinson’s Arch, the original layers of the Western Wall, at their lowest point, were discovered for the first time upon the foundation stone of the mount.
Supreme Court judge Edna Arbel considered the two petitions submitted against two of the City of David excavation sites, and rejected them. In Supreme Court case 9253/08 on the excavations at the Givati parking lot, Arbel wrote:(96) “Many of the petitioners’ claims are made nonsubstantively, without presenting any basis for their claims.” The judge affirmed that, regarding certain operations connected to the stability of the residences in the vicinity, as described to her by the Israeli professionals who had carried them out, “the petitioners did not present any evidence of the link between the digs and the damages that purportedly were caused to the houses.”
Judge Arbel’s words on the importance of the digs at the Givati parking lot, which is part of the City of David, are illuminating:
Apparently there is no disagreement about the fact that the parking lot is located within a national park, and that the excavations performed in it so far have yielded an impressive archeological crop that is of great scientific and historical importance transcending the borders of Israel….This land’s rich historical past is enfolded layer upon layer in the earth. The chronicles of the land, of the peoples who have lived in it, have gone beyond the land to enter the pages of history. Over time they were buried in the land and became its hidden secrets.
“Israel [the judge quoted from another ruling] is indeed a young country, but its roots lie deep in human history, and its land is replete in its length and breadth with relics of an ancient human civilization, which existed and created in this region for thousands of years.”(97) This is all the more true concerning the area known as the City of David. The ruins of the City of David tell the tales of Jerusalem for these thousands of years, as we can learn further in the Bible (see, for example, 2 Samuel 4-8; 2 Samuel 9:11; 1 Chronicles 15:1, the place having already been mentioned, of course, in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac) and other sources.
The importance of the hidden secrets of the City of David is national and international; it is not unique to the Jewish people but, rather, is important for all who seek to investigate the history of the region that is the cradle of the monotheistic religions. The importance of the archeological research is not limited to understanding the land’s past and the possibility of examining the accuracy of the details known to us from other sources; it sheds light on the development of human culture. As such, its importance transcends peoples and borders.(98)
Arbel noted that “it was made clear that the excavation work in the parking lot is being done under the supervision and with the accompaniment of professionals.”
In Supreme Court case 1308/08 that was submitted against the excavation of the Herodian-era drainage channel in the City of David, Arbel remarked:
First of all, notwithstanding the claims of the petitioners, it was explained that the work is being carried out with the accompaniment and supervision of professional engineering in the framework of an approved construction plan. And that is not all. As the respondents’ statements make clear, most of the activities the Antiquities Authority is conducting at the drainage channel are not actually excavation work, but the removal of trash that has been accumulating there for some two thousand years.
Arbel noted the support and strengthening operations that were carried out to prevent damage, and summed up: “It can be said, then, that the operations are being conducted with the accompaniment and supervision of professionals, notwithstanding the claims of the petitioners.” She further asserted: “These professionals are not solely concerned with completing the work on the drainage channel, but also are aware of their obligation to ensure that the work is carried out such that no harm will be caused to the petitioners, their family members, or their property.”
As for the property rights of the petitioners, the judge stated that
insofar as such damage indeed exists it is minor damage….In contradistinction to the damage stands a significant public interest in carrying out the works. Indeed, the uncovering of the secrets of the past, which have lain deep in the earth for hundreds and thousands of years, is a basic element of archeological research. The performance of this work is a multifaceted public interest, given the contribution it makes to the understanding of the history of the land and the history of the Jewish people, and the contribution it makes to the understanding of historical events whose importance is not confined to the Jewish people and their history.(99)
The statements of Prof. Yisrael Finkelstein, one of Israel’s senior archeologists, also are worth noting in this context. Indeed, in the past, Finkelstein has advanced the thesis that part of the Bible was written in the Kingdom of Judah in the seventh century BCE; he is not necessarily, then, a reliable historical guide to more ancient periods. He also expressed a reservation about the strong political coloring of the Elad organization, which is managing the City of David. Yet, in April 2011, Finkelstein dismissed the claims that the work in the City of David is illegal or falls short of the standards of modern archeology.(100) In his opinion, the Temple Mount, the City of David, and the southern ridge of the Old City are the location of biblical Jerusalem, and, whatever the political disagreements, the City of David is
a place of seminal importance for the Jewish people and indeed for anyone who cherishes the heritage of Western civilization….Palestinian accusations – sometimes uncritically accepted by international media – that tunnels are being dug under the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to undermine its foundations, are false. The closest excavation to the mosque is some 70 meters to its south; this excavation stopped when it reached bedrock.(101)
Cautionary and Safety Measures Taken by Israel: The City of David excavations were carried out with professional supervision, as the above-quoted rulings of Judge Arbel make clear. At two of the excavation sites, subjects of the petitions, the court ordered a halt to the work until a final ruling was pronounced. The excavation of the route of the Herodian drainage channel was halted from March 16, 2008, until the ruling was given on September 21, 2009, a period of a year and a half. In November 2008, because of the lack of a building permit for such operations, an interim injunction was issued against any drilling, digging, building, or casting of columns or retaining walls at the Givati parking lot. Seven months later, when the City of Jerusalem issued such a permit, the injunction was lifted.
Possible remains of the palace of King David, according to archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar. (Photo: Avi Balaban, courtesy of the City of David, Ancient Jerusalem archive)
Informal Muslim Attitudes: None have been documented.
Main Archeological Findings: (102)
The Large Stone Structure (Remains of David’s Palace?)
In 2005 archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar discovered remains of a great edifice that was dubbed the Large Stone Structure. Mazar is inclined to identify it with King David’s palace, but some disagree with her.(103) Mazar’s excavation went beneath the levels of the Byzantine- and Second Temple-era buildings, where large unhewn stones were found that were used for the structure’s foundation, its upper parts not having survived. The thickness of the structure’s eastern wall reaches 6.5 meters; the length of another wall, north of the area of the dig, comes to over 30 meters. Whether or not this is actually the palace of King David, it is an impressive public building. Also found here were two particularly interesting seal impressions.(104) One carries the name Jehucal ben Shelemiah ben Shevi, known to us as one of the ministers of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. The second, which was found beside the structure but not within it, carries the name of his fellow official Gedaliah ben Pashur. These two ministers were among the enemies of the prophet Jeremiah and tried to kill him. As Mazar herself writes about the excavation: “The historical description in 2 Samuel 5 of David and his allies the Phoenicians, well-reputed builders who construct for him a new palace, strikingly comports with the facts that have been discovered so far in excavating the Large Stone Structure.”(105)
On this gradient, in various periods, the houses of Jerusalem were built. The archeologist Prof. Yigal Shiloh excavated here from 1978 to 1985. He was preceded by the British excavators Prof. Macalister and his helper Duncan in the 1920s, and Prof. Kathleen Kenyon in the period of Jordanian rule. Shiloh, following in Kenyon’s tracks, unearthed the great find of Macalister and Duncan, an enormous terraced structure on which residences and a royal archive were built in First Temple days. Prof. Shiloh believed the structure had served as a gigantic retaining wall for David’s fortress, which stood at the top of the gradient. After Shiloh’s death, two of his students who examined the pottery fragments at the site assessed that it was indeed a retaining wall for a fortress – namely, the Canaanite-Jebusite Zion Fortress mentioned in the Book of Samuel. The excavations above the structure led Mazar to raise anew the possibility that it dates from First Temple days.(106)
Also discovered in these excavations was the House of Ahiel, and in its ruins pottery fragments with the inscription “for Ahiel.” South of the House of Ahiel was found the House of Bullae (that is, of seal impressions), with fifty-one seal impressions on its floor. The building, which served as a royal archive, was destroyed during the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The collection of signed documents that had been preserved in it was burned, but pieces of the silt of the seal impressions hardened in the fire and were preserved. On the seal impressions survived names such as Shfatiyahu ben Tsafen and Benyahu ben Hoshiyahu, as well as Gemaryahu ben Shafan (a royal scribe) and Azaryahu ben Helkiyahu (a priest during the First Temple era). Out of the fifty-one seal impressions, forty-five bear inscriptions in ancient Hebrew, including the name of the inscription’s owner and that of his father.(107) In an adjacent room, which came to be called the Burnt Room, remnants were found of wooden furniture carved in First Temple times that was imported from Syria, adorned with palm-frond patterns.(108)
The Gihon Spring, which flows from the bottom of the eastern slope of the City of David, was the only spring of Jerusalem. Its low location, however, forced the city’s protectors to leave it outside the walls and fortify it. In 1867, the British researcher Charles Warren climbed from the Gihon Spring up a vertical shaft more than 13 meters high. At the top of the shaft Warren discovered a winding tunnel that led into the city. For many years the shaft, which ever since has been called Warren’s Shaft, was thought to be the main ancient water-supply system, and it was commonly assumed that during sieges water was drawn from the spring via this system.
Since 1995, following Reich and Shukron’s excavation, new findings have put the ancient water system in a new light. It turns out that as far back as the eighteenth century BCE, the Canaanites dug a large pool out of rock and surrounded it with fortifications near the Gihon Spring. The city’s residents made their way to the fortified pool, which was outside the walls, through a secret tunnel that Warren discovered, and could draw water from it well protected. Only about a thousand years later in the eighth century BCE, the era of the kings of Judea, was the level of the tunnel’s floor deepened for an unknown reason. That deepening led to the chance discovery of the natural karstic shaft now known as Warren’s Shaft. It appears that this shaft played no role in the original Canaanite water system. Still undecided, though, is the question of whether the shaft became part of the water system after it was discovered.
Fortifications of the Spring and the Canaanite Pool
The “secret tunnel” led to the rock surface of the eastern slope, outside the walls of the city. Here stood a large pool that was dug out of natural rock. It was the focal point of the Canaanite water system, the Canaanites drawing their water from it. This pool, too, was dug in the eighteenth century BCE but went out of use in the eighth century BCE, possibly because of the digging of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. A dirt filling was raked into it from the near vicinity, and on this filling homes were built. Fragments of some two hundred seal impressions without inscriptions as well as thousands of fish bones were discovered in the dirt filling, dating from the end of the ninth century BCE.
The Gihon Spring
The ancient Roman arch over the staircase that descends today to the spring, along with other findings, testifies that in Second Temple days, too, the residents of Jerusalem were familiar with the spring. Under the staircase a Second Temple-era mikveh was discovered.
The Pool Tower
Giant stones, weighing a few tons each, that were discovered beside the spring constituted the foundations of the Pool Tower that protected the flow system of the Gihon. This marked the first time that building stones of such a size from ancient pre-Herodian eras were unearthed in Jerusalem. The eastern wall of the tower is 7 meters thick, and the tower’s area comes to about 230 square meters.
The Canaanite Channel
The channel extends under the Pool Tower for some 400 meters until it reaches a reservoir that stood at the mouth of the valley in the southeastern City of David. The channel’s northern segment is covered with giant stones; its southern part is carved in rock as a closed tunnel, but with a kind of open “windows” that served to convey the water for irrigation of the fields.
The fear that the plentiful water outside the city would serve the Assyrian army haunted Hezekiah, king of Judea. He diverted the Gihon waters to a tunnel that was dug deep into the rock. Known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel, it was dug at a lower level than that of the Canaanite channel, making the latter obsolete. The winding tunnel carried the water to the Shiloach Pool in the southwestern City of David. The pool, which had been isolated, was now included within a new wall that Hezekiah built. Known as the Wide Wall, remnants of it were found in the Jewish Quarter. The tunnel was dug in two directions simultaneously at a total length of 533 meters. In 1980, an ancient Hebrew inscription was discovered six meters before the tunnel’s opening. It describes how, in the last moments of the complex endeavor of the digging, the two groups of hewers converged.
The Walls of Ancient Jerusalem – Area A
The original wall of the city was discovered in the 1960s by Kenyon. Also discovered in those years was the foundation of a Canaanite tower from the eighteenth century BCE on the southwestern slope of the City of David, and, next to it, a segment of a wall from the eighth century BCE (First Temple period). Further segments of these walls were discovered in 1978-1985, in Area E, by the archeologist Prof. Yigal Shiloh.
The Shiloach Pool
One of the city’s ancient reservoirs stood at the mouth of its main valley. The reservoir contained both rainwater and water from the Canaanite channel. In late Second Temple days, the more imposing Shiloach Pool was built at the spot. The water flowed to it through the ancient Hezekiah’s Tunnel. The Shiloach Pool is square in shape, and stone staircases descend to it from all directions. Its stone lining conceals an even older pool from Hasmonean days.
The Stepped-Stone Streets
From the Shiloach Pool, a staircase ascends to a spacious plaza. It was on the plaza’s northwestern side that a stepped-stone street from late Second Temple days was discovered. This street is paved with large stone slabs and rises northward from the pool. Today’s researchers conjecture that pilgrims went up this street to the Temple Mount and the Temple.
The Eastern Stepped-Stone Street
East of the plaza another Second Temple street was found. Under its pavement, broken in several places, was a large drainage channel with complete cooking pots and coins on its floor from the days of the revolt against Rome. The researchers believe that, in the year 70 CE, the last of the rebels took refuge from the Romans in this drainage channel. It was apparently the Romans who made the breaches in the pavement as they searched for those hiding below. “And after the Romans killed some of the people who came out toward them, and took the rest captive, they looked for those hiding in the tunnels, and tore up the ground over them so that all who fell into their hands were given the sword.”(109)
The Byzantine Shiloach Pool
After the Second Temple was destroyed, the original Shiloach Pool disappeared under layers of sediment. It was apparently the Byzantine empress Eudocia (fifth century CE) who built a new pool in the vicinity. Parts of it were discovered at the opening of the Shiloach Aqueduct. The pool became part of the Shiloach Church compound.