Group Petitions Court to Stop Muslim Dig on Temple Mount

Leading archaeologists, prominent figures say Waqf infrastructure dig irreversibly damaging important artifacts.

Members of the Committee to Prevent the Destruction of Temple Mount Antiquities petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday, seeking to stop an excavation by the Waqf, or Muslim religious trust, on the Temple Mount.

Waqf officials say the digging of the trench, 500 meters long and 1.5 meters deep, is necessary to replace 40-year-old electric cables. But the petitioners say the work "is causing irreversible damage to antiquities and archaeological artifacts of the greatest importance, and is being carried out illegally, without the requisite authorizations."

The petition, against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, other cabinet ministers and the Israel Antiquities Authority, maintains that Temple courtyards were located where the dig is taking place, and that some 400 tons of dirt removed in the process contain priceless archaeological artifacts from various periods.

"The excavations were carried out in an area where the bedrock is sometimes at a depth of only half a meter," the petition stated. "Therefore, massive digging to a depth of a meter and a half entails damage to ground layers, some of which may have been in place since the first Temple stood there 3,000 years ago. Excavating with heavy equipment and tractors severely damaged the ground and directly caused the destruction of ancient stones and other artifacts."

The petitioners charged that law enforcement authorities are failing to meet their obligation to uphold the Antiquities Law on the Temple Mount.

The petition was signed by author A. B. Yehoshua; former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; prominent archaeologists Ephraim Stern, Amihay Mazar, Ehud Netzer, Israel Finkelstein, Moshe Kochavi, Gabriel Barkai and Eilat Mazar; retired Israel Defense Forces generals Zvi Zamir, Yitzhak Hofi and Giora Eiland; attorney Shmuel Berkovitz; and The Jerusalem Post, which also claimed that the Mount is closed to media coverage.

An IAA official said Sunday that its policy on Temple Mount excavations "is subordinate to the government." A political source said the Waqf's work was authorized by the police and the IAA.

Waqf officials termed the committee's charges "propaganda" and repeated their position that the biblical Temple was never located in the area known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.