Turkish Report Slams Israeli Excavations

From Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman:

A Turkish technical mission sent to Jerusalem to inspect Israeli archaeological work near the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque has criticized the excavations and called on Israel to consult with Palestinian and international authorities on a final plan, the mission’s report, obtained by Today’s Zaman, revealed.

The report was commissioned over the “Mughrabi ramp” controversy of March:

…The report suggested that the excavations should not be viewed as a distinct event but as a part of a continual effort by the Israeli authorities to reshape the area, starting with the 1967 invasion of East Jerusalem. Quoting from a March 12, 2007 UNESCO report on the excavations, the report pointed out that the pathway extending from the Western Wall square to the Mughrabi Gate of Haram al-Sharif is the last remaining part of the Mughrabi neighborhood, which was destroyed by Israel during the Six Day War in June 1967, and that its destruction will represent the completion of a 40-year project.

Using rather convoluted language, the report complains of

…a planned and systematically implemented effort which aims to destroy the values associated with cultural assets and the sources of information of these cultures.

Publication of the report was delayed because the Turkish authors did not want it to appear to have been produced in retaliation for the Anti-Defamation League’s recent recognition of the Armenian genocide. The report mirrors Israeli complaints that the Muslim authorities have destroyed ancient Jewish remains on the site of the mosque. The publication also contradicts an Israeli statement on the subject which appeared last month:

Israel has decided to resume controversial renovation work near the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a project which earlier this year sparked protests from Muslims worldwide.

…An independent Turkish committee which inspected the controversial site in March “approved the project,” Mr [Yaacov] Edri said, adding the construction work will begin “very soon”.

Edri, a right-wing Likud MK, chairs the ministerial committee dealing with the matter.

Jim Davila of Paleojudaica notes one problem with the report – the claim that the significance of the Western Wall is “a fairly new phenomenon as it had no religious connotations in the period of King Herod.” Davila comments:

If this is what the report actually says, and not some misunderstanding, it is disturbingly tendentious. The Wailing Wall or Western Wall is part of the Platform of the Temple Mount. Although it was not part of the Temple itself, the Temple stood on the Platform and the whole area was considered sacred. It is simply not true that “it had no religious connotations in the period of King Herod.” I have discussed the Herodian Temple Mount Platform in greater detail here.

The archaeology of Jerusalem is a subject I’ve blogged from time to time in the past. On the one hand, the leading Palestinian archeologist employed by the waqf Muslim authority which controls the site of the Al-Haram al-Sharif (i.e. Temple Mount) has admitted on British television that for political reasons he is unable to confirm the existence of Jewish remains. This of course means that the waqf is unlikely to protect such remains when they turn up, and indeed that they even have a motive for destroying them. One the other hand, there are questionable links between some Israeli archaeologists and nationalist groups, and archeology was invoked to justify plans to demolish Palestinian houses in Silwan in 2005. Further, Gabi Barkai, the archaeologist in charge of the excavations at the Mughrabi ramp, is a PR disaster – when Paddy Ashdown raised some reasonable questions about the how the project had been conducted all he got was an aggressive and self-righteous “I don’t like your attitude and I don’t like this conversation at all, I’m sorry to say.” However, it’s a huge jump from that to the report’s claims of a “systematically implemented effort to destroy” Muslim remains, and the extracts from the report cited by the Zaman are not adequate to proving what would be a major international scandal.

Despite the delay, the timing of the Turkish report’s publication is still unfortunate, for a rather different reason; Asia News reported just a few days ago from Istanbul that

…A XVII century chapel dedicated to Our Lord’s Transfiguration, which lies in front of the Haliki School of Theology, was almost completely destroyed yesterday by Forest Guards.  The Church had been recently restored with the permission of local authorities.

…Diplomatic and journalistic circles mummer [sic] that cases such as these are on the increase and are not casual either: they are part of a strategy adopted by powers in Turkey who are against the nations process of integration in the European Union and are testing the Governments will to protect religious minorities.

(The Zaman report also contains one other inaccuracy, when it mentions that a mosque pulpit had been “totally burnt in a fire set by an Israeli in 1969”. In fact the arsonist was a non-Jewish Australian, and he was a deranged follower of Herbert Armstrong.)