Friday, February 16, 2007

Monitoring the Jerusalem Excavations

The course of politically sensitive excavations in the City of David.

I think that I have finally arrived at a clear picture of the politico-archaeological situation in Jerusalem. Who could riot if everyone were forced to pick this story apart on a Friday night? We must distinguish between two archaeological projects currently active in Jerusalem.

The first is the construction of a bridge that links the Dung Gate (שער האשפות), off the south side of the Western Wall plaza, to the Mughrabi ("Moors'") Gate (שער מוגרבים), which leads to the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount). There was some confusion in the press, and indeed on this blog, about the topography. The Dung Gate is not the Mughrabi Gate. Regarding this first project, I wholeheartedly agree with John: this is 100% kosher. As Haaretz put it in an editorial, this project is in line with the post-1967 status quo. The Israelis control the Mughrabi Gate, the only point of Jewish access to the Temple Mount holy site, just as they control, of course, the Western Wall plaza. This bridge connects those two points and simply replaces a condemned ramp. The excavations that accompany the construction of the bridge are salvage excavations, which as Gideon Avni of the Israel Antiquities Authority nicely explains, are "no different than any other salvage excavation conducted by the Antiquities Authority throughout the country." A perhaps more eloquent testament to the innocence of these excavations than the Authority's live web cam are the comments of Father Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, from the French Ecole Biblique in East Jerusalem. He told the BBC that the work was "completely routine."

"This work is not inside the Haram. It is outside, leading to the Moors' Gate. The earth ramp fell down and has to be replaced. I do not know why the Palestinians have chosen to make an issue out of this. It is a recognised Jewish area under the arrangements that prevail in the Old City. One can contrast this to the extensive excavations just round the corner in a Muslim area where huge pilgrim hostels from the 8th Century were revealed, with no protest. There has also been no protest over digs at the City of David nearby. There is absolutely no danger to the foundations of the al-Aqsa mosque since that is built on the huge Herodian blocks that are still there."

Interestingly, Murphy-O'Connor brings up a second excavation, one which he claims has not elicited a particularly ferocious reaction, that which is underway in the "City of David," south of the Western Wall plaza and Temple Mount, to the east of the Green Line. The distinction between this excavation, which Haaretz termed "illegal," and the Mughrabi bridge project was pointed out in an earlier post by Amos. To my mind, this City of David excavation is, by contrast, morally, ideologically, and perhaps politically dubious. I hasten to add that what it has uncovered so far, part of a Second Temple era road that likely connected the ritual bathing pools of Silwan to the Temple Mount promises archaeologist a significant advance in our knowledge of the ancient city under Roman authority. Still, the project seems deeply flawed. It began under the direction of Professors Gabi Reich and Eli Shukrun a few months ago near the Arab village of Silwan. The same Antiquities Authority's Gideon Avni has called it "unlicensed." Yet the AIA has sanctioned an "exploratory" continuation phase rather than impose the customary restrictions on excavators who break the rules. From Haaretz, it seems, one can't get a clear idea of just "how" illegal this excavation is. To me, it doesn't seem kosher, though. First of all, the excavators are reported to be digging under the local Arabs' homes without any coordination with the owners of those homes. I can't imagine how this can be ethically justified. Second of all, one only needs to glance at the sources of funding for this project to see that the political guidance - or lack thereof - that looms behind the Mughrabi work simply isn't there in this case. One source is an organization called Elad [which promotes the acquisition of East Jerusalem properties by Jews - Amos], and another is the "City of David Foundation" [they seem to be the same organization - Amos]. Its founder, David Be'eri
"first visited the City of David in the mid-1980s, the city was in such a state of disrepair and neglect that the former excavations that had once been conducted were once again concealed beneath garbage and waste. The site was almost completely off-limits to tourists for security reasons, and in fact the first visit David'le made to the site was as an undercover commander of an elite military unit. Inspired by the historical record of archaeological discoveries made in the City of David in prior years, and by the longing of the Jewish People to return to Zion, David'le left the army to establish the Ir David Foundation in 1986 ('Ir David Foundation).
For those inciting Muslims in Israel, the territories, and the world to riot, the Mughrabi Gate work clearly provided enough of a pretext. It would be wise not to add more fuel to the fire with excavations such as this second one, which are not only illegal under Israeli law but also being promoted by organizations with explicit political agendas.


Amos said...

Noah, I am confused. I'm still pretty sure that the Mughrabi Gate is the same as the Dung Gate. Look at this site, for example, which lists שער האשפות and then, in the next column, under "Other Names," cites שער המוגרבים? But it's possible that they are mistaken. From the description of the "Dung Gate" it really doesn't sound like what's been discussed in the news.

Amos said...

Whoa - check out this news item: settlers living in East Jerusalem, near Silwan, were ordered to leave a building in which they had been living.

John said...

To the best of my knowledge, the "Dung Gate" (שער האשפות) and the Mughrabi gate are indeed one and the same.

Noah Kaye said...


I may be wrong, but look at a map of the Old City if you can get a hold of one. The Dung Gate is an entrance to the Jewish Quarter, specifically, to the Western Wall plaza, right? If you go to J-lem, you can enter the Jewish Quarter via the Dung Gate. On the other hand, the Mughrabi Gate is at the top of the old ramp, now being converted to bridge, which leads into the Haram. It's really clear on my map that the Dung Gate is not an entrance to the Temple Mount, where as the Mughrabi Gate certainly, very importantly, is.

Amos said...

Here's a new theory to clear up the confusion. I think the Dung Gate and the Mughrabi Gate are the same. However, as Noah was suggesting, there is another "gate" (or door) that you have to go through to enter the Temple Mount proper, after you have ascended via the ramp. Some people might refer only to that doorway/gate at the top of the ramp as the Mughrabi Gate. In common usage, however, I'm pretty sure that most people either conflate the two or just use both terms to describe the gate that actually leads into the Old City (see this site, for example), not the gate at the top of the ramp.

I have a bunch of pictures that I took last summer, including of that ramp. I'll try to put some up later here.

John said...

Hey Noah,

We've done some extensive research at home - my dad has some great detailed and historical maps. You're definitely right: the Dung Gate and the Gate of the Mughrabis are to separate entities. I'll be posting up some more maps later on. Amos also has some very good pictures that he took of the ramp in question. This will allow us to make sense of all the confusion. My father actually has a book with a map from 1876 that might be an early source of the confusion (it mislabels the Dung Gate as the Gate of the Maghrebis).