Archeologists reported last week that a second, visibly damp bulge has appeared in the massive retaining wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The new protrusion, located on the western wall, is said to be a mere 10 meters (approx. 33 feet) in area at the moment. That is, however, just how the immense bulge in the Mount's southern edifice started out some two years ago.
Senior archeological experts and Jerusalem city officials have expressed increasing concerns over the months about the now 190 meter (approx. 623 feet) long bulge in the compound's southern wall. In a series of urgent pleas to successive governments, experts and concerned citizens alike have warned that if nothing is done to repair the bulge - which protrudes as much as 70 centimeters in some areas - a "historical and human disaster" will occur.
The bulge is situated on the eastern side of the southern wall, just outside of the underground structure known as Solomon's Stables. It poses an existential threat to the nearby Al Aqsa mosque.
Archeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority and other organizations fear the increasingly weak wall could collapse during November's Ramadan services, which attract hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount each Friday. Such a collapse could bring down the huge mosque, destroying the southern portion of the Temple Mount and killing thousands.
According to Israeli archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University, the wall is ready to collapse "within a matter of months, and possibly even weeks; I have trouble believing that it will last the entire winter."
"The bulge can clearly be seen from the road around the southeast corner of the Mount…if a year ago it was a 'fourth-month' bulge, now it looks like it's in its 'eighth month,'" she added.
In a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last month, leading archeologists and security officials warned that "the expansion of the [bulge in the] southern wall has recently increased and the situation has become irreversible over the past six months… The danger of a collapse is close and real."
Government officials have recently snapped to and taken greater notice of the situation, fearing that should a fatal collapse occur during Ramadan, the Muslim world would most certainly blame Israel for the disaster. One official with the Ministry of Internal Security described such a scenario last week as "the Third World War."
Several officials, however, have said that Israel now finds itself in a "catch-22" situation, where Israel will be blamed one way or another - whether the wall collapses, or whether Israel asserts its authority and repairs the wall against the wishes of the Waqf (the Islamic Trust which administers the site).
Archeologists and other experts have unanimously pointed to illegal and unsupervised excavations and construction carried out by the Waqf on the Temple Mount since 1999 as the source of the wall's current frailty. Also lost as a result of the Muslim excavations have been countless archeological treasures highlighting the Mount's fabled past as the location of the Jewish Temple to the God of Israel.
According to agreements signed with the Israeli government, the PLO-affiliated Waqf is forbidden to carry out excavations or construction of any kind on the Temple Mount without the full cooperation of the appropriate Israeli authorities.
Israel has over the past several years decried the continuous digging and destruction of First and Second Temple treasures by the Waqf, though the issue has failed to generate the kind of international attention the 2001 destruction of a statue of Buddha by the Taliban in Afghanistan did.
Waqf officials have of late acknowledged the structural problems in the Mount's southern wall, though the fundamentalist Islamic organization continues to refuse access to the site for Israeli experts.
"The necessary cooperation needed with the Waqf is nonexistent," said Antiquities Authority director Shuki Dorfman, adding, "We cannot get in to carry out the tests" although only "several days" are needed.
The stalemate led to discrete backdoor negotiations, which appear to have culminated for the time being with a visit to the site last week by Jordanian experts. The Jordanians took several samples from the wall, but refrained from making any comments.
Mazar, who heads the apolitical Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, noted however that the Waqf and the Jordanians are doing absolutely nothing except blaming Israel.
"The Waqf has placed some scaffolding there to try to hold up the wall, but is doing no work there. The scaffolding itself is a joke; it's not strong enough to hold up the wall, and in fact, no scaffolding would be strong enough. The wall has to be taken down and rebuilt, that's the only thing that will help."
While it seems incredible that the Waqf would risk the deaths of thousands of Muslims over what appears to be a small trifle with Israel, Mazar points out that the Waqf only "cares about Islamicizing the Temple Mount, and absolutely nothing else."
"Let's not forget, in the past five years, the Waqf has only been destroying there - their goal is to build a mosque on the entire compound," Mazar added.
The coming fall of the southern wall would ostensibly create so great an uproar against Israel in the Arab world that future Israeli governments would consider the Temple Mount off-limits to Jews for many generations to come just to avoid further conflict.
What appears clear is that the Muslim world is quite ready to allow the wall to collapse if it means the perpetuation of their absolute hegemony over the Jewish world's most holy site.
Either way, the Temple Mount, today more than ever, is the place to stay focused on. If and when the walls do come tumbling down, it is imperative that the blame be placed squarely where it belongs.Ryan Jones is a Gentile believer from the United States who has lived and worked in Israel for the past six years. He is the News Editor for Israel My Beloved.
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