Mugrabi Gate

Temple Mount

The Temple Mount (הַר הַבַּיִת, Har haBáyit), also called the Noble Sanctuary (الحرم القدسي الشريف, al-haram al-qudsī ash-sharīf), or al-Aqsa Mosque is a religious site in the Old City of Jerusalem. Due to its importance for Judaism and Islam it is one of the most contested religious sites in the world.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. Jewish Midrash holds that it was from here that the world expanded into its present form, and that this was where God gathered the dust He used to create the first man, Adam. The Torah records that it was here that God chose to rest His Divine Presence, and consequently two Jewish Temples were built at the site. Observant Jews believe that the Third Temple, which they hope will be the final one, will also be located here. In recent times, due to difficulties in ascertaining the precise location of the Mount's holiest spot, many Jews will not set foot on the Mount itself.

In Islam, the site is revered as the location of Islamic prophet Muhammad's journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven and is associated with other local Muslim figures of antiquity. The site is the location of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the oldest extant Islamic structure in the world.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim sovereignty over the site, which remains a key issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1967, the Israeli government assigned a Muslim council, known as the Muslim Waqf, management of the site. The government enforces a controversial ban on prayer by non-Muslim visitors.

Current features of the site

Due to the extreme political sensitivity of the site, few archaeological excavations have been conducted on the Temple Mount itself. Protests commonly occur whenever archaeologists conduct projects on or near the Mount. Aside from visual observation of surface features, most other archaeological knowledge of the site comes from the 19th century survey carried out by Charles Wilson and Charles Warren. This sensitivity has not prevented the Muslim Waqf from destroying archeological evidence on a number of occasions.

The Temple Mount is a large flat-topped construction built over a natural hill; the side walls of the Mount are hidden behind residential buildings on the northern side and northern portion of the western side. The southern portion of the western side is the Western Wall, only half visible above ground. On the southern and eastern sides the walls are visible almost to their full height. A northern portion of the Western Wall may be seen from within the Western Wall Tunnel, which was excavated through buildings adjacent to the platform. The platform itself is separated from the rest of the Old City by the Tyropoeon Valley, though this once deep valley is now largely hidden beneath later deposits, and is imperceptible in places. The platform can be reached via Bridge Street — a street in the Arab quarter at the level of the platform, actually sitting on a monumental bridge; the bridge is no longer externally visible due to the change in ground level, but it may be seen (from beneath) via the Western Wall Tunnels.

An additional flat platform is built above the portion of the hill rising above the general level of the top of the Temple Mount, and this upper platform is the location of the Dome of the Rock; the rock in question is the bedrock at the peak of the hill, just breaching the floor level of the upper platform. Beneath the rock is a natural cave known as the Well of Souls, originally accessible only by a narrow hole in the rock itself, Crusaders hacked open an entrance to the cave from the south, by which it can now be entered. There is also a smaller domed building on the upper platform, slightly to the east of the Dome of the Rock, known as the Dome of the Chain — traditionally the location where a chain once rose to heaven. Several stairways rise to the upper platform from the lower; that at the northwest corner is believed by some archaeologists be part of a much wider monumental staircase, mostly hidden or destroyed, and dating from the Second Temple era.

The lower platform — which constitutes most of the surface of the Temple Mount — has at its southern end the al-Aqsa Mosque, which takes up most of the width of the Mount. Gardens take up the eastern and most of the northern side of the platform; the far north of the platform houses an Islamic school. The lower platform also houses a fountain (known as al-Kas), originally supplied with water via a long narrow aqueduct leading from pools at Bethlehem (colloquially known as Solomon's Pools), but now supplied from Jerusalem's water mains. There are several cisterns embedded in the lower platform, designed to collect rain water as a water supply. These have various forms and structures, seemingly built in different periods by different architects, ranging from vaulted chambers built in the gap between the bedrock and the platform, to chambers cut into the bedrock itself. Of these, the most notable are (numbering traditionally follows Wilson's scheme):

  • Cistern 1 (located under the northern side of the upper platform). There is a speculation that it had a function connected with the altar of the Second Temple (and possibly of the earlier Temple), or with the bronze sea.
  • Cistern 5 (located under the south eastern corner of the upper platform) — a long and narrow chamber, with a strange anti-clockwise curved section at its north western corner, and containing within it a doorway currently blocked by earth. The cistern's position and design is such that there has been speculation it had a function connected with the altar of the Second Temple (and possibly of the earlier Temple), or with the bronze sea. Charles Warren thought that the altar of burnt offerings was located at the north western end.
  • Cistern 8 (located just north of the al-Aqsa Mosque) — known as the Great Sea, a large rock hewn cavern, the roof supported by pillars carved from the rock; the chamber is particularly cave-like and atmospheric, and its maximum water capacity is several hundred thousand gallons.
  • Cistern 9 (located just south of cistern 8, and directly under the al-Aqsa Mosque) — known as the Well of the Leaf due to its leaf-shaped plan, also rock hewn.
  • Cistern 11 (located east of cistern 9) — a set of vaulted rooms forming a plan shaped like the letter E. Probably the largest cistern, it has the potential to house over 700,000 gallons of water.
  • Cistern 16/17 (located at the centre of the far northern end of the Temple Mount). Despite the currently narrow entrances, this cistern (17 and 16 are the same cistern) is a large vaulted chamber, which Warren described as looking like the inside of the cathedral at Cordoba (which was previously a mosque). Warren believed that it was almost certainly built for some other purpose, and was only adapted into a cistern at a later date; he suggested that it might have been part of a general vault supporting the northern side of the platform, in which case substantially more of the chamber exists than is used for a cistern.

The walls of the platform contain several gateways, all currently blocked. In the east wall is the Golden Gate, through which legend states the Jewish Messiah would enter Jerusalem. On the southern face are the Hulda Gates — the triple gate (which has three arches) and the double gate (which has two arches, and is partly obscured by a Crusader building); these were the entrance and exit (respectively) to the Temple Mount from Ophel (the oldest part of Jerusalem), and the main access to the Mount for ordinary Jews. In the western face, near the southern corner, is the Barclay's Gate — only half visible due to a building on the northern side. Also in the western face, hidden by later construction but visible via the recent Western Wall Tunnels, and only rediscovered by Warren, is Warren's Gate; the function of these western gates is obscure, but many Jews view Warren's Gate as particularly holy, due to its location due west of the Dome of the Rock (traditional belief considers the Dome of the Rock to have earlier been the location at which the Holy of Holies was placed).

Warren was able to investigate the inside of these gates. Warren's Gate and the Golden Gate simply head towards the centre of the Mount, fairly quickly giving access to the surface by steps. Barclay's Gate is similar, but abruptly turns south as it does so; the reason for this is currently unknown. The double and triple gates (the Huldah Gates) are more substantial; heading into the Mount for some distance they each finally have steps rising to the surface just north of the al-Aqsa Mosque. The passageway for each is vaulted, and has two aisles (in the case of the triple gate, a third aisle exists for a brief distance beyond the gate); the eastern aisle of the double gates and western of the triple gates reach the surface, the other aisles terminating some way before the steps — Warren believed that one aisle of each original passage was extended when the al-Aqsa Mosque blocked the original surface exits.

East of and joined to the triple gate passageway is a large vaulted area, supporting the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount platform — which is substantially above the bedrock at this point — the vaulted chambers here are popularly referred to as King Solomon's Stables. They were used as stables by the Crusaders, but were built by Herod the Great — along with the platform they were built to support. In the process of investigating Cistern 10, Warren discovered tunnels that lay under the Triple Gate passageway. These passages lead in erratic directions, some leading beyond the southern edge of the Temple Mount (they are at a depth below the base of the walls); their purpose is currently unknown — as is whether they predate the Temple Mount — a situation not helped by the fact that apart from Warren's expedition no one else is known to have visited them.

Traditions relating to the site

Jewish

According to an Aggada in the Talmud, the world was created beginning with the Foundation Stone on the Temple Mount The Bible gives the place where Abraham passed God's test in the Binding of Isaac as Mount Moriah, which according to the Talmud is another name for the Temple Mount.

The Bible recounts that Jacob dreamt about angels ascending and descending a ladder while sleeping on a stone. The Talmud says that this too took place on the Temple Mount. Rashi also identifies the site as the place where Isaac and Rebekah prayed, asking God to grant them children.

According to the Bible, King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Aravnah the Jebusite overlooking Jerusalem upon the cessation of a plague, to erect an altar. He wanted to construct a permanent temple there, but as his hands were "bloodied", he was forbidden to do so himself, so this task was left to his son Solomon, who completed the task c. 950 BCE.

The Western Wall, also known as The Kotel, is a part of the Temple Mount that survived the destruction of the Second Temple and remains standing. The Western Wall is holy due to its proximity to the location on the Temple Mount of the Holy of Holies of the Temple, the Most Holy Place in Judaism. Due to Jewish religious restrictions on entering the most sacred areas of the Temple Mount, the Western Wall has become, for practical purposes, the holiest generally accessible site for Jews to pray. Many Jews often leave written prayers addressed to God in the cracks of the wall.

According to a commonly held belief in Judaism, the Temple Mount is to be the site of the final Third Temple, to be rebuilt with the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

Jewish religious law concerning entry to the site

During Temple times, entry to the Mount was limited by a complex set of purity laws. Maimonides wrote that it was only permitted to enter the site to fulfill a religious precept. After the destruction of the Temple there was discussion as to whether the site, bereft of the Temple, still maintained its holiness or not. Jewish codifiers accepted the opinion of Maimonides who ruled that the holiness of the Temple sanctified the site for eternity and consequently the restrictions on entry to the site are still currently in force. Most will not set foot on the Mount, so as not to incur the severe punishment of karet, spiritual death. There are those, however, who claim that certain areas of the Mount are permitted to be entered under Jewish law. Maimonides is said to have ascended the Mount to pray there in 1165. It appears that David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz) also ascended to a portion of the Temple Mount and gave advice to others how to do this. He permits entry from all the gates and into the 135 × 135 cubits of the Women's Courtyard in the east since the biblical prohibition only applies to the 187 × 135 cubits of the Temple in the West. There are also Christian and Islamic sources which indicate that Jews accessed the site. Opinions of modern-day rabbis concerning entry to the site In August 1967 after Israel's capture of the Mount, the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Isser Yehuda Unterman and Yitzhak Nissim, together with other leading rabbis, asserted that "For generations we have warned against and refrained from entering any part of the Temple Mount." Rabbinical consensus in the Religious Zionist stream of Orthodox Judaism hold that it is forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple Mount. These rabbis include: Mordechai Eliyahu, former Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel; Zalman Baruch Melamed, rosh yeshiva of the Beit El yeshiva; Eliezer Waldenberg, former rabbinical judge in the Rabbinical Supreme Court of the State of Israel; Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Chief Rabbi of Palestine ; Avigdor Nebenzahl, Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem. All Haredi rabbis, including Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky and Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, are also of the opinion that the Mount is off limits to Jews and non-Jews alike. Their opinions against entering the Temple Mount are based of the danger of entering the hallowed area of the Temple courtyard and the impossibility of fulfilling the ritual requirement of cleansing oneself with the ashes of a red heifer (). The boundaries of the areas which are completely forbidden, while having large portions in common, are delineated differently by various rabbinic authorities.

In January 2005 a large group of leading national-religious rabbis signed a declaration confirming that the 1967 decision of Chief Rabbis Unterman and Nissim was still valid, declaring that it is absolutely forbidden for Jews to ascend on the Temple Mount until Moshiach, the Jewish Messiah comes. Rabbis who signed on to the declaration were:

There are some rabbis, however, primarily belonging to right-wing Religious Zionism, who disagree with the majority position and maintain that it is commendable to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount which they believe are permitted according to most medieval rabbinical authorities. In May 2007, a group of right-wing Religious Zionist rabbis entered the Temple Mount. This elicited widespread criticism from other religious Jews and from secular Israelis, accusing the rabbis of provoking the Arabs. An editorial in the newspaper Haaretz accused the rabbis of 'knowingly and irresponsibly bringing a burning torch closer to the most flammable hill in the Middle East,' and noted that rabbinical consensus in both the Haredi and the Religious Zionist worlds forbids Jews from entering the Temple Mount. On May 16, Rabbi Avraham Shapiro, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel and rosh yeshiva of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, reiterated that it is forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple Mount. The Litvish Haredi newspaper Yated Ne'eman, which is controlled by leading Litvish Haredi rabbis including Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, accused the rabbis of transgressing a decree punishable by 'death through the hands of heaven.' Those who permit Jews to access certain parts of the Temple Mount include Rabbis: Shlomo Goren, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel; Chaim David Halevi, former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and Yaffo; Dov Lior, Rabbi of Kiryat Arba; Yosef Elboim; Yisrael Ariel; She'ar Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa; Yuval Sherlo, rosh yeshiva of the hesder yeshiva of Petah Tikva and Meir Kahane. According to Rabbi Shlomo Goren, it's possible that Jews are even allowed to enter the heart of the Dome of the Rock, the probable location of the Holy of Holies, according to Jewish Law of Conquest.

Authorities who permit ascending the Temple Mount generally advise observing the elements of the laws of ritual purity that are possible in the absence of the ancient Temple rites. These include cleansing following seminal emissions and menstrual discharges. Although laws relating to ritual impurity through male seminal emissions, which were a significant aspect of the laws of ritual purity in Talmudic times, have gradually disappeared from Orthodox Judaism since the Middle Ages, they still apply in full force to contemporary Orthodox Jewish law concerning ascending the Temple Mount. Following a seminal emission, even one resulting from marital intercourse, Orthodox men immerse in a mikvah (ritual bath) for ritual cleansing prior to ascending the Mount. Women likewise do not ascend during the period of niddah (during and immediately after menstruation) and, following receiving a seminal emission (intercourse), and immerse in a mikvah to attain ritual purity prior to ascending. Because the rules involved are complex and may be unfamiliar since many are not applicable to circumstances other than the Temple Mount, some authorities advise always immersing in a mikvah as a precaution prior to ascending.

The law committee of the Masorti movement (Conservative Judaism in Israel) has issued two responsa on the subject, both holding that Jews may visit the permitted sections of the Temple Mount. One responsa allows such visits, another encourages them.

Muslim

The Temple Mount is traditionally regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. Many Muslims see Mashad (in Iran) as being more holy to Islam as well. The primary reason for the Temple Mount's importance, however, is because both Kings David and Solomon are regarded as Prophets, and the Temple is (mentioned in Qur'an 17:7, and described in much more detail in the noncanonical Qisas al-Anbiya) as one of the earliest and most noteworthy places of worship of God. (The Kaaba's sanctity has a similar basis in the Islamic tradition that it was built, or rebuilt, by Abraham.) In fact, Muslims faced the Temple Mount during prayer until Muhammad was later commanded to change the direction of prayer toward the Kaaba. Thus Muslims no longer pray towards the Temple Mount, but face towards Mecca. In addition to this, the "farthest Mosque" (al-masjid al-Aqsa) in verse (17:1) of the Qur'an is traditionally interpreted by Muslims as referring to the site at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on which the mosque of that name now stands. References to Jerusalem and events there have been made mostly in various states of ambiguity, in the Quran, and many times in the Hadith.

Another reason for its importance in Islam is because it is believed that in 621, Muhammad arrived there after a miraculous nocturnal journey aboard the winged steed named Buraq, to take a brief tour of heaven with the Archangel Gabriel. This happened during Muhammad's time in Mecca, years before Muslims conquered Jerusalem (638).

Christian

The Temple is mentioned many times in the New Testament (for example, ) in addition to the Old Testament. In these scriptures, Jesus prays there and chases away money changers and other merchants from the courtyard, turning over their tables and accusing them of desecrating a sacred place with secular ways (see Jesus and the Money Changers). Jesus also predicts the destruction of the Second Temple and allegorically compares his body to a temple that will be torn down and raised up again in three days.

Though some Christians believe that the temple will be reconstructed before, or concurrent with, the Second Coming of Christ, the Temple Mount is largely unimportant to the beliefs and worship of most Christians. To wit, the New Testament recounts a story of a Samaritan woman asking Jesus about the appropriate place to worship, Jerusalem or the Samaritan holy place at Mt. Gerazim, to which Jesus replies, "neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father... But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth."

History

While the point at which the Temple Mount enters history may be disputed (see the religious traditions mentioned above), history records that there was a First Temple that stood for 410 years, being built by the Israelites in 996 BCE and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in 586 BCE.

Construction of the Second Temple began under Cyrus in 538 BCE, and was completed on the sixth year of Darius the Great in 516 BCE, 70 years after the exile to Babylonia.

Around 19 BCE, Herod the Great expanded the Temple Mount and rebuilt the Temple (see Herod's Temple). In the course of the First Jewish-Roman War it was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE. The Romans did not topple the Western Wall. Upon the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis revised prayers, and introduced new ones to request the speedy rebuilding of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. They also instituted the recitation of the verses in the Torah which describe the bringing of the sacrifices as a substitute for the sacrifices themselves.

During the time of the Byzantine Empire, it is believed that Constantine's mother, St. Helena, built a small church on the Mount in the 4th century, calling it the Church of St. Cyrus and St. John, later on enlarged and called the Church of the Holy Wisdom. The church was later destroyed and on its ruins the Dome of the Rock was built.;

In 363, Emperor Julian II, on his way to engage Persia, stopped at the ruins of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. In keeping with his effort to foster religions other than Christianity, Julian ordered the Temple rebuilt. A personal friend of his, Ammianus Marcellinus, wrote this about the effort:

The failure to rebuild the Temple has been ascribed to an earthquake, common in the region, and to the Jews' ambivalence about the project. Sabotage is a possibility, as is an accidental fire. Divine intervention was the common view among Christian historians of the time.

After the Muslim conquest of this region, Islamic tradition holds that when Muslims first entered the city of Jerusalem under the leadership of Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab in 637, the ruins of the Temple were being used as a rubbish dump by the Christian inhabitants, perhaps in order to humiliate the Jews and try to fulfill Jesus's prophecy that not a stone would be left standing on another there (Matthew 24:1–2); Caliph Omar (a contemporary of Muhammad, who had died a few years earlier), ordered it cleaned and performed prayer there. However, he refrained from building a mosque at the site but ordered a mosque to be constructed at the South East corner facing Mecca, near which the Al-Aqsa Mosque was built 78 years later.

In 691 an octagonal Muslim building topped by a dome was built by the Caliph Abd al Malik around the rock, for political reasons, in violation of the Caliph Omar's teachings. The shrine became known as the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhra قبة الصخرة). The dome itself was covered in gold in 1920. In 715 the Umayyads led by the Caliph al-Walid I, rebuilt the Temple's nearby Chanuyos into a mosque (see illustrations and detailed drawing) which they named al-Masjid al-Aqsa المسجد الأقصى, the Al-Aqsa Mosque or in translation "the furthest mosque", corresponding to the Muslim belief of Muhammad's miraculous nocturnal journey as recounted in the Quran and hadith. The term al-Haram al-Sharif الحرم الشريف (the Noble Sanctuary) refers to the whole area that surrounds that Rock as was called later by the Mamluks and Ottomans

The structures have been ruined or destroyed several times in earthquakes ; the current version dates from the first half of the 11th century. For Muslims, the importance of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque make Jerusalem the third-holiest city after Mecca and Medina. The mosque and shrine are currently administered by a Waqf (an Islamic trust).

In 1867, a team from the Royal Engineers, led by Lieutenant Charles Warren (later the London police commissioner of Jack the Ripper fame) and financed by the Palestine Exploration Fund (P.E.F.), discovered a series of tunnels beneath Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, some of which were directly underneath the headquarters of the Knights Templar. Various small artifacts were found which indicated that Templars had used some of the tunnels, though it is unclear who exactly first dug them. Some of the ruins which Warren discovered came from centuries earlier, and other tunnels which his team discovered had evidently been used for a water system, as they led to a series of cisterns.

1969 Al-Aqsa arson and other conflicts and complaints

On August 21, 1969, an Australian, Michael Dennis Rohan, set the Al-Aqsa mosque on fire. Rohan was a reader of The Plain Truth magazine published by the Worldwide Church of God headed by Herbert W. Armstrong, which was best known for its radio and television programs called The World Tomorrow featuring his son Garner Ted Armstrong. Rohan had read an editorial in the June 1967 edition by Herbert W. Armstrong, concerning rebuilding of the Temple on Temple Mount. The article implied that the present structures would have to be removed and then when a new Temple had been built a series of events would take place resulting in the return of Jesus as the Messiah. This interpretation of prophetic events is now common within Fundamentalist Christianity, but was almost exclusive to the Worldwide Church of God at that time. Herbert W. Armstrong claimed that Rohan was not a member of the church, only a subscriber to the magazine. The incident made worldwide news and The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London pictured Rohan on its front page with a folded copy of The Plain Truth sticking out of his outside jacket pocket.

The Arab world and the USSR (see role of the Soviet Union) blamed Israel for the incident and Yassar Arafat constantly used it as the foundation of his attacks on Israel. Several Arab and Islamic media agencies, including the Jordanian News Agency, IslamOnline, and Palestine Chronicle, incorrectly reported that Rohan was Jewish. However, Herbert W. Armstrong was not a stranger to King Hussein and he had been working with Jordanian government to put his daily radio program called The World Tomorrow on their AM and shortwave stations that broadcast from the Jordanian West Bank. That contract had been negated due to the Six Day War and the sudden capture of the Jordanian radio stations by Israel.

Israeli sources claim that Israeli firemen attempting to extinguish the blaze were hampered by Arabs who mistakenly believed that the fire hoses contained petrol rather than water;

On February 1, 1981, an article "Islam Reborn" written by Don A. Schanche appeared in the opinion section of The Los Angeles Times. It related the following information:

The Islamic conference, for example, was born in a worldwide surge of Muslim outrage over the August, 1969, burning of Jerusalem's Al Aksa mosque, third holiest shrine in Islam after Mecca and Medina, by a deranged Australian Jew, who many Muslims believed was a pawn in a Zionist plot. The call to gather in Rabat, Morocco, to unify and do something to redress the outrage drew only 25 of the more than 40 nations in the world with Muslim majorities. With only one cause to unite them, the kings and presidents talked for only a day and issued a call for the restoration of Arab sovereignty over Jerusalem and other territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Then they adjourned. The meeting and the newly founded organization were all but ignored by the rest of the world.... Last week, with its membership now grown to 42, but attendance weakened by the suspension of Egypt and Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and the pointed absence of Iran and Libya, the Islamic conference went a long way toward achieving its long-sought goal of power in unity.

On April 11, 1981, an American-born Israeli Jewish soldier, Alan Harry Goodman, entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque and started firing randomly, killing two Palestinians.

In recent years many complaints have been voiced by Israelis about Muslim construction and excavation on and underneath the Temple Mount, and by Muslims about Israeli excavations, two under the Temple Mount, the rest around it. Ironically, for a time Ambassador College — the liberal arts educational institution of the Worldwide Church of God — regularly provided students and money during summer breaks to assist with these excavations.

Some claim that this will lead to the destabilization of the retaining walls of the Temple Mount, of which the Western Wall is one, and/or the al-Aqsa Mosque, and allege that one side is doing so deliberately to cause the collapse of the sacred sites of the other. Israelis allege that Palestinians are deliberately removing significant amounts of archaeological evidence about the Jewish past of the site and claim to have found significant artifacts in the fill removed by bulldozers and trucks from the Temple Mount. Muslims allege that the Israelis are deliberately damaging the remains of Islamic-era buildings found in their excavations.

Since the Waqf is granted almost full autonomy on the Islamic holy sites, Israeli archaeologists have been prevented from inspecting the area; they have, however, conducted several excavations around the Temple Mount.

Changes and damage to existing structures

In 1968–69, Israeli archeologists carried out excavations at the foot of the Temple Mount, immediately south of the al-Aqsa mosque and opened two ancient Second Temple period tunnels there that penetrate beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque in the area of the Hulda and Single gates, penetrating five meters into one and 30 meters into another. "At the Temple Mount's south wall digging took place to uncover the Arabic Umayyad palaces and Crusader remains.

Over the period 1970–1988, the Israeli authorities excavated a tunnel passing immediately to the west of the Temple Mount, northwards from the Western Wall, that became known as the Western Wall Tunnel. They sometimes used mechanical excavators under the supervision of archeologists. Palestinians claim that both of these have caused cracks and structural weakening of the buildings in the Muslim Quarter of the city above. Israelis confirmed this danger:

"The Moslem authorities were concerned about the ministry tunnel along the Temple Mount wall, and not without cause. Two incidents during the Mazar dig along the southern wall had sounded alarm bells. Technion engineers had already measured a slight movement in part of the southern wall during the excavations...There was no penetration of the Mount itself or danger to holy places, but midway in the tunnel's progress large cracks appeared in one of the residential buildings in the Moslem Quarter, 12 meters above the excavation. The dig was halted until steel buttresses secured the building."

In 1981, Yehuda Meir Getz, rabbi of the Western Wall, had workmen open the ancient Warren's Gate, accessing the innards of the Temple Mount itself from the Western Wall Tunnel. Arabs on the Mount heard excavation noises from one of the more than two dozen cisterns on the Mount. Israeli Government officials, upon being notified of the unauthorized tunneling, immediately ordered the Warren's Gate resealed. The 2000-year-old stone gate was filled with cement, and remains cement-shut today. In 1996, Israel opened up an exit to the tunnel, which led to riots.

Archeologist Leon Pressouyre, a UNESCO envoy who visited the site in 1998 and claims to have been prevented from meeting Israeli officials (in his own words, "Mr Avi Shoket, Israel's permanent delegate to UNESCO, had repeatedly opposed my mission and, when I expressed the wish to meet with his successor, Uri Gabay, I was denied an appointment, accuses the Israeli government of culpably neglecting to protect the Islamic period buildings uncovered in Israeli excavations. More recently, Prof. Oleg Grabar of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University has replaced Leon Pressouyre as the UNESCO envoy to investigate the Israeli allegations that antiquities are being destroyed by the Waqf on the Temple Mount. Initially, Grabar was denied access to the buildings by Israel for over a year, allegedly due to the threat of violence resulting from the al-Aqsa Intifada. His eventual conclusion was that the monuments are deteriorating largely because of conflicts over who is responsible for them, the Jordanian government, the local Palestinian Authority or the Israeli government.

In autumn 2002, a bulge of about 700 mm was reported in the southern retaining wall part of the Temple Mount. It was feared that that part of the wall might seriously deteriorate or even collapse. The Waqf would not permit detailed Israeli inspection but came to an agreement with Israel that led to a team of Jordanian engineers inspecting the wall in October. They recommended repair work that involved replacing or resetting most of the stones in the affected area which covers 2,000 square feet (200 m²) and is located 25 feet (8 m) from the top of the wall. Repairs were completed before January 2004. The restoration of 250 square meters of wall cost 100,000 Jordanian dinars ($140,000).

On February 11, 2004, the eastern wall of the Temple Mount was damaged by an earthquake. The damage threatens to topple sections of the wall into the area known as Solomon's Stables.

On February 16, 2004, a few days after the earthquake, a portion of a stone retaining wall, supporting the ramp that leads from the Western Wall plaza to the Gate of the Moors on the Temple Mount, collapsed.

Physical changes to adjoining areas

In 1967, after the Six Day War, Israel razed the Moroccan Quarter (Harat al-Magharbah) of the Old City, immediately adjacent to the Temple Mount. Before the demolition the only way to access the Western Wall was through a blind alley in the quarter. This had long been an area of tension between the residents of the neighborhood and the Jewish Pilgrims. A plaza was built in front of the Western Wall.

Alterations to antiquities

In 1996 the Waqf began construction in the structures known since Crusader times as Solomon's Stables, and in the Eastern Hulda Gate passageway, allowed the area to be (re)opened as a mosque called the Marwani Musalla (claimed by Israel to be new, by Palestinians to be restored from pre-Crusader times, having been built by a calif named Marwani, and the Crusaders having turned it into stables) capable of accommodating 7,000 individuals. Many Israelis regard this as a radical change of the status quo under which the site had been administered since the Six-Day War which should not have been undertaken without consulting the Israeli government; Palestinians regard these objections as irrelevant. Though the building was built at the same time as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, whether the building had been a mosque before Crusader times or not is open to discussion.

In 1997, the Western Hulda Gate passageway was converted into another mosque. In November 1999, a buried Crusader-era door was reopened as an emergency exit for the Mosque located within the Solomon's Stables area, opening an excavation claimed by Israel to be 18,000 square feet (1,700 m²) in size and up to 36 feet (11 m) deep. According to The New York Times, an emergency exit had been urged upon the Waqf by the Israeli police, and its necessity was acknowledged by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

In early 2001, Israeli police said they observed bulldozers destroying an ancient arched structure located adjacent to the eastern wall of the Temple Mount in the course of construction during which 6,000 square meters of the Temple Mount were dug up by tractors, paved, and declared to be open air mosques, which is assumed to have intermixed the underlying strata. Some of the earth and rubble removed was dumped in the El-Azaria and in the Kidron Valleys, and some of it (as of September 2004) remained in mounds on the site. The excavation and removal of earth with minimal archaeological supervision became an issue of controversy, with some scholars such as Jon Seligman, Hershel Shanks and Eilat Mazar claiming that valuable history material is being destroyed and others, such as Dan Bahat and Meir Ben-Dov, disputing this assessment. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) inspected the material and declared it of no archaeological value, but a group called the Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount campaigned against this position and in September 2004 obtained a temporary injunction against the IAA and the Muslim Waqf preventing them from removing the material which still lies in mounds on the site. Both sides accuse the other of having political motivation.

The Ir David Foundation is currently funding the Israel Antiquities Authority sifting of the rubble and a sampling of its finds of archaeologically significant items are available on the internet.

Vandalism to the southern wall

On March 30, 2005, the southern wall of the Temple Mount was found to have been the target of vandals. The word "Allah" in approximately a foot tall Arabic script was found newly carved into the ancient stones. The vandalism was attributed to a team of Jordanian engineers and Palestinian laborers in charge of strengthening that section of the wall. The discovery caused outrage among Israeli archaeologists and many Jews were angered by the graffiti at Judaism's holiest site.

Proposed synagogue

During the Sukkot festival in 2006 Uri Ariel, a member of the Knesset from the National Union party (a right wing opposition party) ascended to the mount, and said that he is preparing a plan where a synagogue will be built on the mount. His suggested synagogue would not be built instead of the mosques but in a separate area in accordance with rulings of 'prominent rabbis.' He said he believed that this will be correcting a historical injustice and that it is an opportunity for the Muslim world to prove that it is tolerant to all faiths.

Plans for a new minaret?

October 14, 2006, it was reported in The Times that there are plans to build a new minaret, the first of its kind for 600 years, on the Temple Mount. King Abdullah II of Jordan announced a competition to design a fifth minaret for the walls of the Temple Mount complex, imprinting his Hashemite dynasty on the site. The new addition would, the King said, "reflect the Islamic significance and sanctity of the mosque". The scheme is likely to cost £200,000. The plans are for a seven-sided tower — after the seven-pointed Hashemite star — and at 42 metres (130 ft), it would be 3.5 metres (11 ft) taller than the next-largest minaret. The minaret will be constructed on the eastern wall of the Temple Mount near the Golden Gate.

Some reports about plans on track for construction to begin early 2007, , but these never took place. A leading Israeli archeologist lambasted the plan. "I am against any change in the status quo on the Temple Mount", said Bar-Ilan University's Dr. Gabi Barkai, a member of the Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount. "If the status quo is being changed, then it should not just be the addition of Muslim structures at the site".

The existing four minarets include three near the Western Wall and one near the northern wall. The first minaret was constructed on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount in 1278. The second was built in 1297 by order of a Mameluk king, the third by a governor of Jerusalem in 1329, and the last in 1367.

Mugrabi Gate ramp reconstruction

During February 2007 the Israel Antiquities Authority started work on the construction of a new pedestrian pathway to the Temple Mount. The existing wooden structure was built as a temporary measure after a landslide in 2005 made the earthen ramp leading to the Mugrabi Gate unsafe and in danger of collapse. The works sparked condemnation from Arab leaders with a Syrian Foreign Ministry official stating that "Syria strongly condemns these violations, and considers them a blatant affront to Muslim waqfs and the feelings of Muslims worldwide." Similar views were made by Jordan's King Abdullah. However Jerusalem District Police Chief Ilan Franko said that the works were coordinated in advance with the Muslim Waqf that oversees the Temple Mount. A recent UNESCO ruling on the incident cleared Israel of wrongdoing, saying that they had acted with professionalism, but nonetheless advised the continued cessation of construction until more concerned parties could be consulted, so that negative sentiments would not be inflamed.


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Temple Mount cable replacement controversy

In July 2007, the Waqf began digging a ditch from the northern side of the Temple Mount compound to the Dome of the Rock as a prelude to infrastructure work in the area. Although the dig was approved by the police, it generated protests from archaeologists. The Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount criticized the use of a tractor for excavation at the Temple Mount "without real, professional and careful archaeological supervision involving meticulous documentation".

Management of the site

A Waqf has managed the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif continuously since the Muslim reconquest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Since taking control of the area in the Six-Day War, Israel has permitted the Waqf to retain internal administration of the site. Under this arrangement Jews and Christians are permitted to visit the site. As a security measure to prevent Intifada-related riots from destroying the site, however, the Israeli government has agreed to enforce a ban on non-Muslim prayer on the site. Non-Muslims who are observed praying on the site are subject to expulsion by the police.

On 7 June 1967, immediately after the fighting had died down in Jerusalem, the then Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, convened the spiritual leaders of all the communities in Jerusalem and assured them that "no harm whatsoever shall come to the places sacred to all religions", and that contacts should be maintained in order to make certain that spiritual activities of the religious leaders in the Old City may continue. He also mentioned that upon his request the Minister of Religious Affairs had issued instructions according to which arrangements in connection with the Western Wall, Muslim Holy Places and Christian Holy Places should be determined by the Chief Rabbis of Israel, a council of Muslim clerics and a council of Christian clergy respectively. Together with the extension of Israeli jurisdiction and administration over east Jerusalem, the Knesset passed the Preservation of the Holy Places Law, ensuring protection of the Holy Places against desecration, as well as freedom of access thereto.

According to a posthumously-published interview with Haaretz, General Uzi Narkiss reported that on June 7, 1967, a few hours after East Jerusalem fell into Israeli hands, Rabbi Shlomo Goren had told him "Now is the time to put 100 kilograms of explosives into the Mosque of Omar so that we may rid ourselves of it once and for all." His request was denied; according to Goren's aide Menahem Hacohen, he had not suggested blowing up the mosque, but had merely stated that "if, during the course of the war a bomb had fallen on the mosque and it would have — you know — disappeared — that would have been a good thing." Later that year, in a speech to a military convention, he added: "Certainly we should have blown it up. It is a tragedy for generations that we did not do so. ... I myself would have gone up there and wiped it off the ground completely so that there was no trace that there was ever a Mosque of Omar there." Shlomo Goren also entered the Dome of the Rock with a Torah book and the shofar.

Claims of exclusivity

Jewish claims

  • Some Jews claim that the Temple Mount is one of the sites that were legally purchased by their ancestors and therefore remains the legitimate property of the Jewish people only. They cite the midrash which states that "There are three places regarding which the nations of the world cannot taunt Israel and say ‘you have stolen them.’ They are: The Cave of the Patriarchs, the Temple Mount and the burial site of Joseph", for it is recorded in the Bible that each of these places was purchased "for its full price" by Abraham, David and Jacob respectively.
  • Another view is to establish not the Temple but a synagogue on the Mount. During the Camp David 2000 Summit, the then Prime Minister Ehud Barak raised the possibility of building a synagogue on the mount while more recently MK Uri Ariel has called for the construction of a synagogue on the mount.

Muslim claims

In recent years many Muslims have made claims of exclusivity:

  • Sheikh Raed Salah — head of the Islamic Movement in Israel has stated: "We remind, for the 1,000th time, that the entire Al-Aqsa mosque, including all of its area and alleys above the ground and under it, is exclusive and absolute Muslim property, and no one else has any rights to even one grain of earth in it.
  • "The archeology of Jerusalem is diverse — excavations in the Old City and the areas surrounding it revealed Umayyad Islamic palaces, Roman ruins, Armenian ruins and others. Outside of what is mentioned written in the Old and New Testaments, there is no tangible evidence of any Jewish traces remains in the old city of Jerusalem and its immediate vicinity.

Acknowledgments of the basis for its holiness to other religions

Roman

In a Roman acknowledgment of the Jewish views to the site, a letter written by the Roman Emperor Julian (361363), a pagan, tells of how he told the Jews that he would rebuild the sacred city of Jerusalem for them, "...which for so many years you have longed to see inhabited, ... and together with you, glorify the Most High God therein". A personal friend of his, Ammianus Marcellinus, wrote about the effort to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, as did Sozomen (c. 400450) in his Historia Ecclesiastica.

Israel

Clause 3 of Israel's Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel (July 1980) states: "The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings towards those places." President Chaim Weizmann has articulated recognition for the holiness of Jerusalem to "two other great monotheistic" religions.

Muslim

Muslims have traditionally acknowledged that the Temple Mount is holy to the Jews, the main reason being that the Temple Mount was the site of the Temple of Solomon. A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif, a booklet published in 1930 by the "Supreme Moslem Council", a body established by the British government to administer waqfs and headed by Hajj Amin al-Husayni during the British Mandate period, states on page 3:

"The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest (perhaps from pre-historic) times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings." (A subsequent footnote refers the reader to 2 Samuel 26:25)

Imam Al-Qurtubi quotes the earlier commentator Imam Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari who related the Prophet Muhammad's response to a follower's query about the ruins of the fabled Jewish Temple. Qurtubi sets out in writing Tabari's words about the destruction of the Temple, which tally in every detail with biblical accounts of the Temple's destruction by the Babylonians, reconstruction, and final destruction by the Romans. Shaykh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi suggests that the Quran expressly recognizes that Temple Mount in Jerusalem plays for Jews the same role that Mecca does for Muslims.

References

External links

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