Last week, the entrance to an underground tunnel complex on the Temple Mount. The potential for important archaeological discoveries connected to the tunnel is enormous but on Tuesday, the Waqf (Muslim authority) filled in the tunnel entrance with concrete.
Last week, a broken flagstone on the Temple Mount revealed a tunnel, approximately two feet square, descending several yards where it seems to join up with a larger tunnel. The entrance is located in the southern end of the Temple Mount, between the Aqsa Mosque and the Mughrabi Gate. Dr. Zachi Dvira, an Israeli archaeologist from Bar-Ilan University, confirmed that the shaft was from the Second Temple Period.
“This is from the part of the Temple Mount that Herod added later,” Dr. Dvira said. “It was part of the Temple Complex, though not part of the Temple itself.”
Dr. Dvira co-directs the Temple Mount Sifting Project which began in 2004 to recover archaeological artifacts contained within debris removed from the Temple Mount without proper archaeological care during illegal construction carried out by the Waqf. In 1999, approximately 9,000 tons of archaeologically-rich soil were removed from the Temple Mount by the Waqf, using heavy earth moving equipment and without a preceding salvage excavation or proper archaeological care, following works in and around the newly constructed underground el-Marwani Mosque.
“Unfortunately, it was to be expected that the Waqf would fill in the entrance to the tunnel,” Dr. Dvira said. “The Israeli Antiquities Authority did not act fast enough. They should have gone in and checked it out. This is their responsibility. This has religious and archaeological ramifications.”
According to classical Jewish sources, the Ark of the Covenant is hidden under the Temple Mount in a specially prepared underground chamber.
“This does not destroy the tunnel. It can be removed but it is preventing the tunnel from being researched. If the IAA would have filled it in but not with concrete. Currently, Israel is not initiating any research on the Temple Mount because that would upset the Muslims.”
Dr. Dvira noted that under the new normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates, the Israeli government is hoping that the Temple Mount will attract Muslim pilgrims from other countries.
“The Israeli government does not want to jeopardize the relationship with other Muslim nations. It may even be that the government encouraged the Waqf to fill in the tunnel to prevent the possibility of unrest.”