by Nadav Shragai
The state must assume the mantle of funding the Temple Mount Sifting Project.
Some 9,000 tons of dirt laden with archaeological finds, Jewish history stripped from the Temple Mount's earth, have been excavated over the past 14 years as part of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, yielding discoveries -- the importance of which cannot be overstated -- about the most pivotal place in Jewish history.
But now the funding has dried up and this unique archaeological and educational project has ground to a halt. The government, which is busy dividing budgets between the new Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation and the Israel Broadcasting Authority, seems to have forgotten the culture and heritage shared by all of us -- Right and Left, religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi -- culture and heritage that are systematically denied by the Palestinians and their friends at the U.N. and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The bulldozers that bit into the Temple Mount's soil in 1999, sent there by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf (the trust that controls and manages the current Islamic edifices on and around the site) to turn the massive underground structure of Solomon's Stables into a giant mosque, loaded the soil removed onto trucks, which in turn dumped the soil around the greater Jerusalem area.
Then-Israel Antiquities Authority Director Amir Drori called it an "archaeological crime" and then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein called it "a blow to the Jewish people's history." Tzahi Dvira, then an archaeology student, attempted to save a few artifacts and was promptly -- outrageously -- indicted. Today, Dvira and his mentor, Jerusalem Prize for Archaeology recipient Dr. Gabi Barkai, head the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which has so far recovered tens of thousands of artifacts, including coins, tiles, pottery, arrow heads, and jewelry.
Through the sifting project, the Temple Mount, a virtual "black hole" in Jewish history that has never been excavated, provided an opportunity to study its history. More than 200,000 volunteers from the world over have participated in the project, which has taken on an educational aspect as well. Most of the funding came from the Ir David Foundation, but the dwindling funds eventually forced the project's suspension.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture Minister Miri Regev, who hold Jerusalem dear, have promised to review the issue and help, but so far nothing has come of it. The possibility that the Temple Mount Sifting Project would come to an end is inconceivable in every way -- scientific, cultural, Jewish, educational and historical, as well as from a public diplomacy standpoint. Barkai has repeatedly said he is appalled by the thought that the only archaeological opportunity to learn something about the history of the Temple Mount is about to slip away.
We may not actually be able to claim the Temple Mount as ours, but the soil removed from the compound is absolutely ours. The state must assume the mantle of funding the Temple Mount Sifting Project. As statesman Yigal Allon once said, "A nation unfamiliar with its past will see a poor present and an uncertain future."
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