Jerusalem, Asharq Al-Awsat- Residents of the old city of Jerusalem know that Israel’s recent declaration to suspend construction work on the steel bridge is intended to silence enraged Muslims. The ongoing excavations beneath the Noble Sanctuary [Al Haram al Qudsi al Sharif] in Jerusalem on several sites are even more catastrophic. Although some Israeli archeologists have recently announced that they discovered artifacts in the area, some of the archaeologists stated that work would continue for at least three years to complete the collection of the relics from this “holy” chapter. The statements made by Israeli authorities this time confirm that the project will continue. So what is Israel doing beneath and around al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and for what purpose? Digging and destruction started forty years ago and today’s clamor is the straw that may break the camel’s back as excavations are taking place wherever one turns. Also, the holy shrine is in need of its supporters with some of its foundations having been razed.
On the third day of the Six Day War in 1967, General Mordechai Gur arrived at the area of the Noble Sanctuary. He was on top of the world as he saw Israel’s so-called Temple Mount finally falling into Israel’s hands. What happened to Gur may be of interest to researchers of political affairs but the fall of the eastern part of Jerusalem, which had always inspired the imaginations of Jewish politicians, archeologists and clerics, paved the way for such imagination to be tested on the ground.
After Gur managed to reach the al Aqsa mosque, General Moshe Dayan and Ben-Gurion arrived at the Moroccan Quarter [Harat al Magharbah], and specifically at the Western Wall of al Aqsa mosque, which Muslims call al Buraq and Jews dub the Wailing Wall. Overexcited, Ben-Gurion removed an Arabic engraved plaque that provided information on the history of the site and Dayan confiscated the key to the Mugrabi Gate, the western gate of al Aqsa mosque. Israel is yet to return the key.
The two men questioned what could be done with the populated Moroccan Quarter that had existed for over one thousand years with its mosques, Zawiyas, shrines, monuments and shops. The answer soon came and was put into effect at midnight on June 10 when bulldozers moved in to knock down the Moroccan Quarter even with some of its residents still inside their homes, refusing to evacuate their residences after having received a three-hour notice. The result was the eviction of approximately 700 Palestinians from the Moroccan Quarter and three thousand Palestinians from the neighboring al Sharaf Quarter, which came to be called the Jewish Quarter. Some of the most important Ayyubid and Mamluk antiquities and distinguished Moorish heritage were reduced to rubble, including al Madrasa al Afdalia and al Buraq Mosque.
According to researcher Tahir al Namri, the Moroccan Quarter extended to over 16,000 square meters and comprised of 136 houses, four mosques, a modern school and Zawiyas, the most famous of which is the Bou Medyan Zawiya.
The world did not react to this archeological and humanitarian massacre. The Israelis dealt with the matter arrogantly to the extent that the hero of the demolition process, Etan Ben Moshe, who was a senior officer with the occupying army’s Engineering Corps at the time, and who was later promoted to be its commander, gave a statement to the Israeli newspaper Yorshalim on 26 November 1999 in which he acknowledged that he killed a number of Palestinian residents of the Moroccan Quarter who were buried under the rubble, that is, beneath the present-day Wailing Wall where Jews worship. He stated that he took the bodies of three residents to the Israeli Bikur Cholim Hospital.
It should be highlighted that many Israeli archeologists refused to accept the results of excavations that were conducted by foreign missions in Jerusalem before occupation, as they failed to unearth what the Israelis hoped for. The dreams of glory for Israeli archeologists remained as such a discovery would confirm the words of the Torah. Their dreams converged with the designs of the Hebrew state for the largest illegal excavation process to begin without supervision after Israel had revoked licenses from and expelled the foreign excavators who had worked under Jordanian administration. It is difficult to trace the excavations, demolition, destruction and construction that took place in Jerusalem over 40 years ago, and even the Palestinians do not know what happened and what continues to take place.
Excavations triggered heated reactions from the Palestinians in the form of demonstrations, uprisings and armed activity. This was not paralleled by any professional scholarly effort that can present a Palestinian, Arab or even an independent account of what is taking place, which can be dubbed the archeological crime of our time.
Archaeologist Eilat Mazar appeared on the scene. She is the granddaughter of Benjamin Mazar, the former president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem who failed to realize any of his dreams regarding the excavations in which he participated around and beneath the Noble Sanctuary.
In 2006, Mazar published a book in which she clearly stated that she sought to dig nine meters below the Mugrabi Gate to Ain Salwan to unearth Barclay’s Gate—that “if actually discovered, would be the world’s largest monument,” according to her.
But Mazar took it further than that and used the image of the “hypothetical” gate as the front cover of her book – and it became the starting point of her work. More accurately, one could say that the work never ended for it to begin and it is not limited to the Mugrabi Gate but also includes most of the Old City of Jerusalem.
What is certain is that Mazar and her colleagues have worked over the past four months in the Salwan area and have unearthed the tunnel that will lead them to the supposed Barclay’s Gate, however, this was only announced earlier this year.
To understand what has been happening recently, we should look at a number of key events. On August 13, 2006, the Jerusalem municipality published an invitation in a number of newspapers to demolish the Mugrabi Gate. The declared purpose was to rebuild the bridge that collapsed following an earthquake in February 2004. The Israeli bulldozers prepared for work on the Mugrabi Gate earlier this year, which coincided with the beginning of the construction of a synagogue on al Wad Road near one of the Al Haram al Qudsi al Sharif gates. While attention was directed to the construction of the synagogue, bulldozers seized the chance to demolish the rest of the Moroccan Quarter, razing Ayyubid and Mamluk houses with the aim of building the so-called Western Wall heritage center.
The archeological crime that has transpired can never be justified; however, in January 2007 the Israeli Antiquities Authority declared that it is responsible for the excavations carried out opposite The Noble Sanctuary and the Mugrabi Gate that leads to it. According to the authority, the significance of the excavations stems from the fact that there have never been excavations in that area before.
According to this authority, there have been discoveries of a section of an aqueduct that channeled water from Solomon’s Pools to the Noble Sanctuary [which the authority always refers to as Temple Mount]. Other discoveries include a colonnaded street, described by many as magnificent, from the Roman-Byzantine era.