During Ramadan—which concluded last week—the Temple Mount is closed to non-Muslims and there is only a limited police presence there. Taking advantage of this situation, the Jordanian-run religious authority responsible for the Islamic holy places on the Mount, known as the waqf, cleared away mounds of dirt and rubble that contain valuable archaeological artifacts. These mounds had resulted from earlier, deliberate attempts by the waqf to destroy archaeological sites, eventually brought to an end by an order from Israel’s supreme court. The Temple Mount Sifting Project, which has been working for years to recover artifacts from these areas, explains the situation:
[T]he Muslim waqf [has] move[d] the remaining mounds of soil that were originally excavated in 1999 and the early 2000s, along with the material we have been sifting. This material contains a huge number of artifacts from all periods of the history of the Temple Mount, including the First and Second Temple periods. . . . Yet, . . . illegally, the waqf, with dozens of volunteers and workers, carried out excavation work [and] earth and stone clearance on the Temple Mount. . . .
Stones were collected [from the mounds] and used to build terraces and little walls to outline new walkways. . . . [T]here are four places where the waqf not only “cleaned” the mounds on the surface, but yet again dug into their interiors. This was clearly [done to] show who is in control, and a message from the waqf to the world that they don’t need permission from Israel to do anything on the Temple Mount, and that no one can stop them. The video from last week also showed ancient slabs being sorted and removed from the mounds. Who knows what else was discovered, and what else we won’t be able to study from this unsupervised work. . . .
[T]hese archaeologically rich mounds of earth have been irreconcilably damaged. This is a clear violation of the law, a violation of basic morality and respect, and an absolute destruction of the heritage of Jews as well as Christians and Muslims. This constitutes a decade’s worth of regression in the level of enforcement of [Israeli] antiquities law.