When Wakf bulldozers illegally ascended the Temple Mount in 1999 to surreptitiously remove thousands of tons of ancient soil to make way for a subterranean mosque, two archeologists found hope in recovering some of the Jewish heritage that crime destroyed.
As countless invaluable artifacts dating from the First Temple period at Judaism’s holiest site were dumped in a garbage heap in the capital’s Kidron Valley, Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira saw an opportunity.
Five years later, under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University, the two archeologists procured a government license to have the ancient debris transferred to Emek Tzurim National Park on the western slope of Mount Scopus, where they established the headquarters of the Temple Mount Sifting Project.
Today some 70% of the 400 truckloads of earth has been scrutinized by a staff of 15 employees and thousands of volunteers from around the globe, one bucket at a time.
Since then, more than 500,000 artifacts – from a 3,000-year-old seal from the time of King David to coins, stone vessels, jewelry and flooring tile fragments from the Second Temple period – have been painstakingly documented for future generations.
Nevertheless, to the outrage and utter befuddlement of millions, last October UNESCO approved a resolution denying Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.
According to Barkay, professor emeritus from Bar-Ilan University and recipient of the 1996 Jerusalem Prize for Archeological Research, “Temple Mount denial” is a political phenomenon that began during the period of the Oslo Accords.
“Temple denial started in the 1990s, even though the Islamic Wakf itself in the 1920s and ’30s issued booklets which were given to visitors of the Temple Mount in which they said the existence of the Temples is beyond any doubt,” said Barkay last month.
“It was accepted and in the Islamic literature through the generations there is a plethora of mentions of Solomon’s Temple and the Temple of the Jews in Jerusalem, so it is very strange that they deny it now.”
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