As mentioned in the report in the previous post, there is a Supreme Court ruling from 2004 that forbids the removal of dirt from the Temple Mount without notifying the Temple Mount Antiquities Rescue Committee 30 days in advance. This is to allow the committee enough time to determine that the removal of the dirt will be done with proper archaeological examination.

Last week the Waqf (the Muslim trust on the Temple Mount) began removing debris from the heaps in the eastern area on the Temple Mount without the police notifying the committee in advance and without any proper archaeological examination of the debris (Fig. 1).

Fig 1.

Fig 1: A tractor loading a large truck with material from the Eastern debris heaps

Rumors also claim that the Israeli Antiquities Authority was also not notified in advance on the plan of removing this debris. The police claimed that only modern debris was removed, but this is not possible since the Waqf deliberately mixed the modern debris with the dirt rich of archaeological artifacts in order to make these heaps look insignificant. This was the same case with the dirt that was removed in the large dig in November 1999, which we have been sifting for the last 8 years. Every bucket we sift includes modern artifacts mixed with ancient ones.

Even a picture that the police published in order to prove that only “garbage” has been removed, shows the typical grey Temple Mount dirt mixed with modern construction debris (Fig. 2). The committee discussed this issue with the police and the IAA, and we notified them that we do not see any problem in removing the modern debris from the heaps, in condition it will be done manually. It is impossible to separate the “garbage” from the dirt when using heavy machinery.

Fig 2.

Fig 2: Picture released by Israeli Police which clearly shows that the modern debris is mixed with dirt

It addition to the debris removal, a truck full of ancient hewn stones and other architectural fragments was observed and filmed dumping the stones on top of the southern debris heap. Among the stones, a fragment of a Herodian gate jamb was seen (see Video below and Figs. 3-4). The police claimed that the stones came from outside and will be used for renovating the eastern wall. This doesn’t make sense since it is against the law to remove ancient stones from one site to another, especially in order to make reuse of them. During this work no IAA inspector was seen at site.

Fig 3.

Fig. 3: Truck unloading hewn stones on top of one of the dirt heaps

Fig 4.

Fig 4. A fragment of a Herodian door/gate jamb

About 6-8 truckloads of debris were removed on Sunday and Monday, December 23 and 24 . On Monday we followed one of the trucks and found out that it dumped its contents in an illegal garbage dump near the village El-Azariya. Since then the Wakf has stopped removing debris from the Temple Mount. We don’t know whether it is because they noticed we are following them, or because the publicity of the story caused the Prime Minister to postpone this removal until after elections.

Jordan has invested a significant amount of money in recent years (about 2 million JD) in the Temple Mount for renovations. The eastern heaps disturbs them, and they have been putting a lot of pressure on Israel to allow their removal, but Israel has demanded that this dirt will be removed with archaeological examination, and this is why the issue has been stuck for so many years.

Last week there were news reports about a recent secret visit by Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu, in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah. It may be assumed that one of the things they discussed was the Temple Mount issues, and Netanyahu promised to solve the problem of removing debris from the Temple Mount. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense that Netanyahu will approve such an activity a short time before elections.