The Temple Mount Sifting Project, Fourteen Years On

In the 1990s, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement (since outlawed by Israel as a terrorist group), together with the Jordan-run waqf, which administers Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, decided to build a large new mosque on the Temple Mount. To enable construction—and in violation of Israeli law—thousands of tons of dirt were removed from the Mount, thus making impossible a proper archaeological excavation where artifacts can be evaluated based on where they were found, but also making a huge quantity of artifacts accessible to Israeli researchers. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira, realizing this, began the Temple Mount Sifting Project, staffed largely by volunteers, in which the dirt is mined for archaeological treasure. Here they report on some of their most significant finds, beginning with some of the oldest:

The finds . . . include five arrowheads; three are made of iron and the other two are made of bronze. One of these bronze arrowheads dates to the beginning of the First Temple period (10th century BCE) and is Judahite, the other dates to the last days of the Temple [6th century BCE] and is Babylonian. It was likely shot into the city by the Babylonian army during the attack which led to the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. . . .

To date, the Sifting Project has recovered more than 6,000 coins, ranging from the first Judean coins minted during the Persian period (tiny silver coins dating from the 4th century BCE) to others minted in modern times. These coins attest to the rich past of the Temple Mount. A particularly exciting find is a rare silver coin minted during the first year of the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome (66/67 CE). The coin features a branch with three pomegranates and an inscription in ancient Hebrew script reading “holy Jerusalem.” The reverse side of the coin features an omer (an ancient half-cup measuring unit) and is inscribed “half shekel.” The coin is well preserved although it bears scars of the conflagration that destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE. . . .

Finds from the Byzantine Period (324–638 CE) include about a half-million mosaic tesserae which are unique in their size and style, thousands of roof-tile fragments, [and] pieces of Corinthian capitals and chancel screens from church structures and floor tiles. The plethora of Byzantine-period artifacts stands in contrast to the commonly held view that in the Byzantine era the Temple Mount was desolate or, according to some sources, a garbage dump. Clearly, this view is mistaken.

It is especially worth noting that the remains of church structures contradict the commonly held belief that there were no churches on the Temple Mount during this period. In fact, one of the authors (Dvira) discovered unpublished archival evidence of a Byzantine mosaic floor that lies under the earliest phase of the al-Aqsa mosque.

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More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Byzantine Empire, History & Ideas, Islamic Movement, Jerusalem, Temple Mount

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat