April 12, 2011

Letter to Smithsonian Magazine

I submitted the following to Smithsonian Magazine in response to the misleading information contained in "Sifting Sacred Ground."

In his article, “Sifting Sacred Ground,” Joshua Hammer focuses on the culpability of the Islamic Waqf in removing soil containing potential archeological discoveries during a pre-approved construction project at Jerusalem’s Nobel Sanctuary/Temple Mount. He twice mentions early Christians allegedly using the site as a garbage dump. However, Hammer fails to acknowledge the numerous harmful excavations Israeli authorities have conducted adjacent to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.

From 1970-1979, digging was done directly beneath Al-Aqsa, resulting in the opening of a tunnel under the women’s prayer area. In a separate incident, Israeli engineers measured a slight movement in part of the southern wall, as reported by Abraham Rabinovich in the Jerusalem Post (1996).

Contrary to a 1929 document in which Waqf historian Aref al Aref confirmed his belief in the existence of Solomon’s Temple, Muslims have historically referred to it as al-haikal al-mazaoum (the alleged structure). Readers would have benefited from a more accurate and balanced picture of the history and controversy surrounding the Nobel Sanctuary/Temple Mount had Hammer talked with as many Muslim academics as he did Jewish scholars.

I found Hammer’s usage of “warren,” to describe an Arab housing area particularly offensive, connoting Palestinians are akin to wild rabbits and that Israelis performed a service by demolishing the homes to create a plaza. In actuality, this is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 147).

The quote "A toothbrush would be too large for brushing that soil, and they did it with bulldozers," attributed to Israeli historian Eyal Meiron must have been paraphrased from an earlier quotation by Gabriel Barkai of the Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, who was originally cited in a 2007 BBC article.

Finally, the idea that the Waqf has ultimate jurisdiction over the Nobel Sanctuary/Temple Mount is misleading. During a visit to Jerusalem in 2001, I was prohibited from entering the area by Israeli soldiers who informed me it was "closed to tourists." It was not on a Friday or Islamic holy day; they were merely arbitrarily refusing to let in visitors.

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