For sheer gall, Barack Obama’s labeling half of Israel’s capital a “settlement,” as Jonathan has pointed out, may be hard to beat. But a New York Times report of a new book about the Temple Mount is definitely in the running. Seeking to give readers some background, the report offered the following gem: “The lack of archaeological evidence of the ancient temples has led many Palestinians to deny any real Jewish attachment or claim to the plateau.”
We’ll ignore the fact that the Second Temple is actually well-documented in extant writings from the period, and that several sections of the Temple compound’s outer walls, as described in these writings, have been uncovered (the Western Wall being one of them).
Instead, let’s discuss why there is a dearth of findings from the Temples themselves. (1) There happens to be a mosque on the exact site where, according to tradition, the Temples once stood. (2) Israel, contrary to Palestinian propaganda, is not out to “destroy al-Aqsa”; indeed, it scrupulously avoids any action that might endanger the mosque. (3) Israel is so deferential to Muslim sensibilities that, after capturing the Mount in 1967, it handed control of the site back to the Muslim waqf. Which brings us to (4): for all these reasons, Israel has never excavated the only place in the world where remnants of the Temple could possibly be found. Nor were any digs conducted there before 1967: al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock have stood undisturbed for hundreds of years. And yes, it is hard to produce archaeological evidence if you never even conduct a dig.
What is outrageous about this report is not just the way it abets Palestinian falsifications of history, though it certainly does that: since the reader isn’t told that this “lack of evidence” stems from the fact that nobody ever looked, he naturally assumes that archaeologists did, in fact, look and found nothing.
Even more outrageous, however, is the way Israel’s generosity is being used against it: its very restraint in eschewing excavations on the Mount — its concern, again, for Muslim sensibilities, its desire to avoid even the appearance of harm to the mosques — has been twisted into “evidence” that no Jewish connection to the Mount ever existed.
This is a standard Palestinian tactic: Israel’s refusal to let Jews pray on the Mount, also in deference to Muslim sensibilities, is similarly used as “proof” that Jews have no connection to the site. After all, Muslims pray there; Jews don’t; QED. And this tactic has been wildly successful: most of the world is completely convinced that Israel lacks any rights on the Mount.
But if Israel’s generosity is being exploited in this fashion, perhaps Jerusalem needs to rethink its tactics — and start demonstrating the Jewish connection to the Mount in actions rather than words. Excavating under al-Aqsa would be too drastic a first step. But letting Jews pray on a designated section of the Mount devoid of mosques would be an excellent place to begin.