EDITORS’ NOTE: The following article is adapted from a statement by U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R.-Va., on his introduction of the Temple Mount Preservation Act in Congress on July 19.
WASHINGTON (BP)–Information produced by archeologists providing hard evidence of the destruction on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem reveals one of the most unprecedented attacks on religious heritage of our time.
Connected with such destruction is extreme religious intolerance — contrary to the Jeffersonian principles of the free exercise of religion held dear by all Americans.
This issue has implications for individuals across the globe. Thousands of years of Judeo-Christian heritage is under siege at this most sacred of sites to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The Temple Mount is the site of the biblical temple built by King Solomon, as well as the temple visited by Jesus as a child and again as an adult.
In 1967, Jerusalem was united under Israel’s sovereignty. Since that time, Israel has been legally responsible for the Temple Mount.
The government has allowed equal access for all religions. Shortly after the 1967 War, the Israeli government delegated authority for the daily oversight of the Temple Mount to the Waqf, a Muslim Foundation, in tacit cooperation with Jordan.
Jordan’s role as custodian of Muslim religious interests was codified in the Israel-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994.
In the aftermath of the negotiations surrounding the Oslo Accords, Chairman Yasser Arafat took control of the Waqf, bringing about a change in the policy of free access for all religions on the Temple Mount.
He began by replacing the Jordanian-affiliated clergymen and officials and named Mufti Ikrima Sabri the chief Muslim administrator. Sabri, known for his anti-Semitic and anti-American views, has since declared that the Jews have no right to the Temple Mount.
More recently, Arafat has denied Jewish and Christian worshipers access to the historic Temple Mount and has restricted media from visiting the site.
Beginning in early 1998, Arafat’s Waqf has permitted large-scale bulldozing and destruction of the Temple Mount antiquities. Thousands of tons of fill have been unearthed and simply dumped into the nearby Kidron Valley.
Archeologists have verified these artifacts date from the period of the First Temple (circa 1006 BC [BCE] to 586 BC [BCE]).
Anybody with any reasonable perspective would hold that the Temple Mount should be preserved and any disturbance thereon closely monitored.
But now, there are bulldozers and stone-cutting machines hacking away every day.
In my congressional district in Virginia, we are known for historical sites, such as Montpelier, the home of former President James Madison. I can tell you that bulldozers come nowhere near the residence, or its estate.
I just returned from Israel two weeks ago.
While there, I met with individuals and government officials who verified the media reports of the destruction. The Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount is comprised of former government leaders, archeologists and academics who are concerned and have banned together to fight the destruction of the religious site.
I saw ancient ruins unearthed from the time of the First and Second Temples. I saw construction equipment and materials protruding from the top of the Temple Mount, visible from the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount.
I met with the Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, who confirmed the pattern of destruction.
Pictures (displayed while Cantor was delivering this statement) of the destruction reflect the evidence compiled by archeologists. The first series of photographs depict the Temple Mount site as it has evolved since the mid-1990s.
Particular attention should be given to the heavily treed landscape early on, and later, the paved plaza replacing the trees.
Attention should focus on the southeastern area of the Temple Mount, under which an area called Solomon’s Stables was connected with the Second Temple. In this area, Arafat has directed the destruction of what may have been part of the Temple complex.
The Waqf’s action destroyed physical remnants of the religious site, including arched entranceways and colonnades believed to have played a role in religious life two thousand years ago.
The pictures depict bulldozers crushing evidence of the religious site and new construction masking any trace of the temple.
There have been several press accounts reporting this grand-scale destruction of the Temple Mount. I would like to bring your attention to one in particular.
This is from an Op-Ed carried by the National Review in October 2000, in which the author stated:
“Moreover, the Waqf has devoted the past 33 years to an extensive campaign of excavation, systematically destroying any evidence of Jewish and Christian presence on the Temple Mount, so that they could argue — as they now do — that it has always been an exclusively Muslim place.”
Further evidencing the calculated plan of Arafat’s to destroy our Judeo-Christian heritage, we saw in the Boston Globe in March 2001 a quote from Sheik Ikrima Sabri:
“The Temple Mount was never there…. There is not one bit of proof to establish that. We do not recognize that the Jews have any right to the wall or to one inch of the sanctuary…. Jews are greedy to control our mosque…. If they every try to, it will be the end of Israel.”
The bottom line is, Chairman Arafat’s intent is to deny access to the Temple Mount for any individuals other than followers of Islam.
In addition, the evidence produced today clearly shows that Arafat is intent on erasing Judeo-Christian connections to the holy site.
And that is why I am introducing the Temple Mount Preservation Act that would cut off all aid to Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority until all unauthorized excavations of the Temple Mount are stopped.
Currently, the United States is on track to send $125 million in aid this year to the United States Agency for International Development — USAID — for the Palestinians. This money is part of a $400 million package over three years appropriated by Congress in 2000. Additionally, the U.S. annually provides approximately $75 million in indirect aid to the Palestinians — again administered through the USAID.