Annemeet Hasidi-van Der Leij
Temple Mount Sifting Project
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
“You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favour to her; the appointed time has come. For her stones are dear to your servants; her very dust moves them to pity.“ Psalm 102 : 13- 14
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 prayer space called the ‘Marwani Musalla’ capable of accommodating 10.000 individuals! In 1998, the Western Hulda Gate passageway was converted into another mosque. In 1999, the Waqf requested a permission from the Israeli government to build an emergency exit for the Marwani Musalla mosque. Within days, in order not to spark any controversy, the permission was given by Ehud Barak, who was at the time prime minister. The result was that with bulldozers they took 400 truckloads of rubble from the Temple Mount and dumped it into the Kidron Valley. The Palestinian archaeologist, Yusuf Natsheh who works for the Waqf, was conveniently sent on a holiday with his family to Jordan at the time of the destruction.
Archaeologists Dr. Gabriel Barkay(photograph below) and Zachi Dvira retrieved the matter from the dump, and in 2004, they started sifting it. Their initiative became the Temple Mount Sifting Project.
Dr. Gabriel Barkay
The removed rubble is filled with Jewish history from many periods: the Canaanites, the First Temple, the period of the return to Zion (from Babylonia), the Second Temple, including the Hashmonaim period and King Herod, and up to now. Instead of building the emergency exit, a main entrance to the mosque was built(see photograph below).
Dr. Gabriel Barkay, said the construction demolished structures dating to the Twelfth Century Crusades, and went on without archaeological supervision. He said the construction used ancient stones from early Jewish buildings and used them to make modern ones. Israel Finkelstein has described the project as "the greatest devastation to have recently been inflicted on Jerusalem’s archaeological heritage".
Temple Mount Sifting Project: After the rubble was dumped, Zachi Dvira(here on the photograph), an archaeology student at Bar
Ilan University and also a student of Dr. Barkay, went to the Kidron valley and started to go through the rubble. In the process he was arrested, but still managed to take a certain amount of finds with him to show to Dr. Barkay.
In the year 2000 Dr. Barkay requested a permission to sift through this mountain of rubble, but had to wait for four years to get the permission. Very carefully the rubble was brought to the place where the project would take off, which is in ‘Zurim Valley National Park.’ On the place where the rubble was originally dumped a garden with terrasses was constructed. Now, forteen years later, many important finds were made; many small floor tiles, of different colors, which confirm the Talmud's description of the floor of the Second Temple as being reminiscent of the ocean. Other finds have included fragments of stone decorated with ornaments known to be from the Second Temple Period, arrowheads from Nebuchadnezzar's army and also from the Romans, as well as more than 5000 half shekel coins from the time of the Second Temple. Gaming pieces, Roman dice and decorations from many periods and among the most exciting finds were bullae (seal rings) from the First Temple period, ostracons written in ancient Hebrew script which may have belonged to a well known family of priests mentioned in the book of Jeremiah, seals, and more.
The ‘Temple Mount Sifting Project’ is the largest archaeological project in the world with its quarter of a million volunteers. When the transferring of the mounds of the Temple Mount material from the Kidron Valley began, the dump was divided into various areas, because the suspicion excisted that the order of the removal of the earth from the Temple Mount and the location of its dumping may correlate somehow to the way it was excavated.This turned out not to be the case.
The Process of Sifting: The rubble is put in black buckets, which are filled only for a third, and water is added. From the bucket the wet rubble is thrown into a sieve. The next step is the wet sifting. This is something everyone of all ages can do. It is basically the first cleaning of the rubble above the sieve so it is cleaned from dust and sand.
After that the objects in the sieve are divided into 6 catagories: metal, special stone , mozaic, pottery, glass and bones. For this purpose you will get a plastic tray with 6 containers. The actual identification of the catagorized objects is ofcourse left to the staff members who are knowledgeable in this subject. Volunteers from all over the world come to this place. I spoke to an American gentleman who comes already for 6 years! This is a nice place to take a group of tourists to. Either for a tour or to volunteer. You do have to phone and make an appointment. There is also a payment. This is the site where you can find all the information about booking:
The following I took from an article written by Hillel Fendel in which he interviewed Dr. Gabi Barkai; First Published: 5/12/2010: "We demand that the law regarding antiquities be enforced," Dr. Gabi Barkay said, "and our sovereignty be activated there. These are cultural assets for which we have a tremendous responsibility towards future generations… I would like to see the removal of all the Waqf's heavy equipment, and I would like to see the Waqf observe the law; the Israel Antiquities Authority must be allowed to always be on site to supervise, and not have to come in various disguises and the like." Barkay explained that in addition to building mosques on the site, the Moslems clearly have the goal of detaching Israel from its past and Holy Temple connections: "They wish to undermine Jewish ownership and bonds to the Temple Mount. They've built a giant mosque there in Solomon's Stables (under the Temple Mount) and another one nearby – but aside from that, they have an ideological goal which is even making inroads to naïve circles in the west, and it is called 'Holy Temple denial.' They act as if there never was a Holy Temple. This is very very grave; regarding the Holocaust, there are living people who still remember it, but the same cannot be said regarding the Temple…"
"We must demand that Israeli law and sovereignty be enforced on the Temple Mount," Barkay concluded.
*Waqf literally means ‘confinement and prohibition’ or causing a thing to stop or stand still. The legal meaning of Waqf according to Imam Abu Hanifa(699 CE — 767 CE), is the detention of specific thing in the ownership of waqif and the devoting of its profit or products ‘in charity of poors or other good objects.’In other words: a Muslim religious or charitable foundation created by an endowed trust fund. The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque are governed by a Palestinian Waqf. The Waqf Ministry of Jordan held control of the al-Aqsa Mosque until the 1967 Six-Day War. After Israel's victory in that war, Israel transferred the control of the mosque and the northern Noble Sanctuary to the Islamic waqf trust, who are independent of the Israeli government.
**The Huldah Gates(photograph below), in Hebrew: שערי חולדה, are the two sets of now-blocked gates in the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, situated in Jerusalem's Old City.
The western set is a double arched gate (the double gate), and the eastern is a triple arched gate (the triple gate). Each arch of the double gate led into an aisle of a passageway leading from the gate into the Mount, and to steps leading to the Mount's surface; when the al-Aqsa Mosque was built, the old steps were blocked, and the eastern aisle lengthened so that new steps from its end would exit north of the Mosque. The triple gate is similar, though the longer aisle is to the west, and its third aisle, on the east, forms the western boundary of the vaulted area known as Solomon's Stables. The gates were constructed in a way that if you would enter through the double Hulda Gate and leave through the tripple Hulda gate, you would never have your back turned to the Holy of Holies.
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