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Significant improvement of the enforcement and supervision of the Israeli Antiquities laws on the Temple Mount

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Since the summer of 2007 we have witnessed a positive trend concerning the enforcement of the antiquities laws, and the Israel Antiquities Authority’s (IAA) supervision of construction work on the Temple Mount. An especially significant improvement took place following the investigation by the State Comptroller in 2008.
The construction work currently taking place on the Temple Mount is a good example of this trend. The Awaqf began digging channels as preparation for placing sewage systems in the area just north of the northwestern section of the raised platform two weeks ago. The depth of the channels reaches 40cm, though in some spots deeper holes were dug for installing manholes. The total length of all the channels is c. 150 m, and they cover an area of c. one dunam.

Channels for new sewage pipes in the Northern part of the Temple Mount

Channels for new sewage pipes in the Northern part of the Temple Mount

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The excavations do not penetrate to a great depth, though we must take into account that the bedrock in this area is very close to the surface, and in some areas it is actually exposed. Prof. Asher Kaufman discovered remains of a Byzantine mosaic floor in this area during the 1980’s, and the IAA further exposed it in 2009. Furthermore, Kaufman published remains of a number of walls which could still be seen in this area. Some of them were previously documented during the 19th century by the architect and researcher Conrad Schick. The remains of an ancient moat which was documented by researchers who surveyed and mapped the Temple Mount during the 19th century is also located to the north of this area. This moat protected the pre-Herodian Temple Mount precinct, and was probably sealed off by the Roman military leader Pompey when he besieged the Temple Mount in 63 BCE.
The existence of a Byzantine mosaic on the Temple Mount is surprising as the historical sources do not indicate the existence of any structures on the Mount during this period. This assumption has been weakened following the finds from the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Moreover, in 2009 we found evidence of a Byzantine mosaic in the archive of the Mandatory Antiquities Department. This mosaic floor was discovered during Awaqf excavations that took place in the 1940’s under the floor surface of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In the framework of the Sifting Project we discovered over half a million mosaic tesserae, as well as many mosaic floor fragments which are still held together by plaster.

A few examples of the many sections of Mosaic floors which were found at the Temple Mount Sifting Site

A few examples of the many sections of Mosaic floors and walls which were found at the Temple Mount Sifting Site

In light of this, there is no doubt that all earthworks in the area to the north of the raised platform, and south of the moat, necessitate strict archaeological supervision and even a preliminary rescue excavation before the area can be released for the development of new infrastructures.
It is required by law to convene the ministerial committee for Holy Places prior to any construction work, including infrastructure changes, on the Temple Mount. However, until 2009 all Israeli Prime Ministers prevented the convening of this committee, and all issues relating to the Temple Mount were dealt directly by the Prime Minister. The authorizations for any construction work were given orally and informally. In the current case and in several other cases during the last few years, however, this ministerial committee was convened. Following their discussions, construction work has been approved, including in the current case.
As opposed to previous years, most of the infrastructure work taking place on the Temple Mount recently, including the current work, enjoy close supervision by the IAA inspectors, and in some cases important finds have been discovered and collected by them, and will hopefully be officially published one day.

. A Policeman and IAA archaeologist supervising the construction work

A Policeman and IAA archaeologist supervising the construction work

It seems as if the activity of the Public Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, as well as the public protests and hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the Temple Mount Sifting Project and were exposed to the archaeological destruction, were indeed successful in creating a heightened public awareness to the issue, which in turn influenced also the political decision makers.

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More Details about the New Course of Ashlar Stones at the Bottom of the Raised Platform Northern Wall

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Leen Ritmeyer, archaeologist and architect expert of the Temple Mount, published a post in his blog referring to the new discovered course of ashlar stones at the bottom of the raised platform northern wall that we published here in a report two weeks ago. Ritmeyer discusses this wall in his post and eliminates the Byzantine and Umayyad dating, which leaves the Pre-Herodian dating to be highly probable.
We examined this find again, especially its chisel marks. We concluded that this course of stones could not be dated prior to the Umayyad period. Similar stones could be found in other sections of the raised platform wall and in other Umayyad sections of the Temple Mount walls. In addition, the Umayyad builders commonly made secondary use of stones from previous structures, so judging just by the type of stones and chisel marks we cannot disqualify dating these stones to the Early Islamic period.

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Last Tuesday, there was a discussion in the Knesset Interior Committee regarding antiquities destruction on the Temple Mount. The constructions and paving at new generator room was also discussed. The Antiquities Authority claimed that all of the construction works at the site were authorized by the special ministry council, and the works were supervised and completed a year and a half ago. In a discussion two weeks earlier in the same Knesset Committee, the Antiquities Authority claimed that since 2009 all the earth works are done manually and no heavy machinery is used.
Now, the facts that we know about this dig contradict these claims. In a video published on the internet two months ago, a bobcat tractor is seen working around the new generator and removing earth. No antiquities inspector or policeman is seen supervising this work. In addition, the work took place in October 2013 and is still not finished. The fact that the paving worked has stopped and has not been completed yet may imply that the IAA inspectors noticed this work in a late phase and then stopped it, due to the new archaeological information that was revealed during this dig. Could it be that the IAA was not aware of this earthwork, in spite all their claims that everything today is being supervised and controlled?

Report on Latest Waqf Works on the Temple Mount

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The final report of State Comptroller concerning illegal activities on the Temple Mount that was written in 2010 states that all the lessons from the draft (written in 2008) were learned, and now oversight of the Temple Mount has greatly improved.  Although there has been major improvement in police and IAA supervision at the site, unfortunately, things are not still satisfying. Last year we published a long report about antiquities desecration at the site since 2009, and even today, a few days after the comptroller report was brought to the public and a week after the IAA and police declared in a discussion in the interior committee in the Knesset that all construction work at the site is being reviewed, authorized and supervised by the police and IAA inspectors, we still encounter evidence that shows a different reality.

Yesterday we received reports about more dirt being removed from Solomon’s Stables with a small Bobcat tractor. We went today to check this out and found fresh dirt on top of the debris heaps in the eastern area of the Temple Mount.

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Just to remind our readers, the Supreme Court in 2004 ruled that these heaps must not be removed before being examined by archaeologists. This means that they should not even be mixed with other debris before being inspected. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening, and these heaps are being maneuvered, and more debris is poured upon it, making the future task of archaeologist to differentiate the between the various contexts of the finds more difficult.

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In addition, more graffiti has been noted in various locations, such as on the eastern wall of the raised platform.

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Recently, the ground level near the new generator room north of the raised platform was lowered by one foot. This work exposed an unknown course of stones from an earlier phase of this wall. This course could be dated to the Early Umayyad period or even the Second Temple Period. L. Ritmeyer suggested that the foundation of this course was the original northern wall of the Temple Mount, and there is evidence for this thesis in various spots along this line.

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It appears that somewhere on the Mount more construction is currently taking place. This can be deduced from new construction material that has been brought inside the compound.

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On the floor of the Dome of the Spirits there are some rare remnants of an opus sectile floor. These remnants are probably in secondary use and include Byzantine and Herodian tiles. In the picture below is a nice rectangular bituminous limestone tile that was recently severely damaged. Older pictures show some cracks, but for some reason the cracks have become much wider. On and around it remains of a blue spray paint can be seen. It appears like someone laid a very heavy object upon this floor and painted it. This work damaged the ancient floor and left stains on it.

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In addition, the Israeli police have tightened their security checking of the visitors to the Temple Mount  which results in a very long line of visitors that now extends out of Dung Gate towards the City of David. Because it takes so long to pass through security before entering the site and because the visiting time is so limited, many tourists are being denied entry to the Temple Mount.

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