Is the Waqf planning to build or laying the groundwork for a fifth mosque in the eastern part of the Temple Mount complex in the underground space beneath the Golden Gate? The Public Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount obtained updated photographs that were originally posted on Facebook by Muslim groups. The committee claims that the pictures show this is indeed what is being planned.
In recent years, Muslims have approved the building of two new mosques on the Temple Mount, while doing serious damage to antiquities there. The new mosques were built in addition to Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. While the latter is technically a shrine, it has become a de facto place of worship. The two new Islamic houses of worship are Marwani mosque, built in Solomon’s Stables, and Al-Aqsa Al-Qadim, which is under Al-Aqsa.
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira has been severely critical of the manner in which the authorities have dealt with the developments of recent years on the Temple Mount, but the report he authored on the subject has not been cleared for publication.
Dr. Eilat Mazar, an Israeli archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a member of the Public Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount. She said that in the large space underneath the Golden Gate there continues to be “significant, new activity that arouses great concern.”
The Israel Antiquities Authority has said that there is nothing new to report. The space underneath the gate has only seen limited educational activity by Muslims, with no harm done to antiquities there.
The area in question was once used by the Islamic Movement and Sheikh Raed Salah, but it was sealed off by order of the military a decade ago. In recent years, there have been educational activities by Muslims. In recent months, however, Mazar said that “the area has been renovated, new lighting has been installed, carpets have been laid down there, and Muslim guards have prevented anyone from gaining access or coming close to the area.”
“The Muslims are gradually turning the place into a mosque and are in essence monopolizing the area for Muslim use only,” she said. “This is a very serious development, even if this is being done with authorization. It is even graver if it is being done without authorization.”
When asked to describe the current situation in the eastern sector of the Temple Mount complex, Mazar used one word: “Disgraceful.”
“These days, the Temple Mount, particularly its eastern part, resembles a big garbage dump and construction site,” she said. “It doesn’t resemble a historical site or an archaeological site of supreme importance for anyone who values culture.
“The Muslims are doing whatever they want on the Temple Mount, and there is no serious archaeological supervision,” she said. “The area around the Golden Gate is filled with construction material and building material. There are chiseled stones, rocks used for paving, and coarse sand. The tractors are working nonstop at the most important archaeological site in the land of Israel, maybe even the world, all in contravention of all the rules of archaeology which forbid heavy machinery from being used in such a sensitive area.”
“The space underneath the Golden Gate is closed,” she said. “A Muslim guard is manning the roof of the Golden Gate. Around the area, there are a number of study groups that are monitoring the site and preventing foreigners from coming near while construction work is taking place close to it.”
“We, as a committee, see a very methodical plan being executed,” she said. “Nothing is happening here by chance. This is a case in which damage is being inflicted on a historical site of supreme importance, the Temple Mount, which has no equal. It is also the continuation of a systematic effort to turn the Temple Mount complex into one large mosque. There is no sound logic that can explain the conduct of the state in such a sensitive area.”
‘Legitimate and acceptable’
The Antiquities Authority does not share the committee members’ view. Authority officials view the situation in a different light. Dr. Yuval Baruch, the director of the Antiquities Authority’s Jerusalem District, said that the area in question is being used to administer high school matriculation exams to students enrolled at schools that use the Temple Mount complex. The activities currently taking place there are permissible according to the closure edict that was issued years ago.
“We visit the area on a regular basis,” he said. “There is no change. There is no construction work being done, and there is no harm being done to artifacts.”
When asked about the debris and the building material that has been accumulated in the eastern part of the complex, Baruch said that the state has asked that mounds of dust be cleaned up, but that every time it tried to do so, the committee has prevented it by appealing to the High Court of Justice. The court decided to bar the state from going through with the cleaning.
The dirt in question was dug up from the large pit in Solomon’s Stables, when the Muslims turned the building into a mosque. The committee believes that the dust must be filtered and studied before it is removed from the complex.
“Naturally, when people see piles of dirt and debris, they pour more garbage there,” he said. “We tried to come to an arrangement with the committee, and even the chairwoman of the Knesset’s Interior Committee, MK Miri Regev, told them that their position was an errant one, but they are insisting,” he said.
“The building stones in the area are being used by the Muslims to rebuild the eastern wall of the Temple Mount complex, not for any other goal,” Baruch said. He also rejected claims that heavy machinery, including bulldozers, should not be allowed to work in the vicinity. He countered that such tools are being employed in archaeological sites in Caesarea and Herodium, which is “legitimate and acceptable.”
According to Baruch, everything that is done today at the Temple Mount has been authorized by a special ministerial committee under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority. Frequent reports are prepared for the appropriate authorities in accordance with the instructions handed down by the attorney general.
“The situation today on the Temple Mount is immeasurably better than it was seven, eight years ago,” Baruch said.
“There is no construction work being carried out in the area underneath the Golden Gate,” a spokesperson for the Jerusalem police said. “The area is not about to turn into a mosque.”
Police officials said they too tried to engage in dialogue with the committee in the hopes that it would retract its petition to the High Court, but to no avail. Since the petition is pending, authorities are not permitted to remove the mounds of dust and dirt from the eastern part of the Temple Mount complex.