A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
This summer, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak approved continued expansion of Muslim prayer space on the Temple Mount, or Haram-al-Sharif, where thousands gather to worship each Friday to welcome the Islamic Sabbath. New pavement will be laid on the site, holy to Muslims as the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven and to Jews as the location of the First and Second Temples.
The installation of the pavement will not entail digging as reported by the Associated Press. According to Jerusalem District Archaeologist Jon Seligman, Barak's announcement comes with a policy shift that will allow for closer supervision by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) of how archaeological materials are handled at the Temple Mount. That will be no small feat at a site where the distrust felt by the Waqf (the Islamic religious council governing Muslim activity at the Temple Mount) for the IAA has impeded cooperation. In November, the Waqf bulldozed archaeological layers containing chiefly Omayyad (early Arab) period remains to create an additional fire door at a mosque (see "Jerusalem's Temple Mount Flap," March/April 2000).
The new policy, Seligman says, is designed "to increase the frequency and involvement of archaeological inspection and to provide a proper channel of information to the IAA prior to works being carried out." While he is hopeful that the Waqf will now report any plans that might endanger antiquities to the IAA, Seligman cautions, "This has yet to be proven to work."
Because of the religious and political sensitivity of the site, the IAA is charged merely with observing and noting the archaeological goings on at the Temple Mount. "Our job is not, as at other sites in the country, to stop the damage and intervene," Seligman says.