In a saner era, the latest archeological discovery in Jerusalem would be the sort of thing only academics or ancient history buffs would care about. But in a month when UNESCO has voted repeatedly to treat Jerusalem’s holiest spots as if they were solely Muslim, the dig that located the site where the Romans breached the capital’s walls during the great Jewish revolt in 70 C.E. is of more than academic interest. It is not only yet another reminder of the insidious nature of the war still being waged to extinguish the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish homeland.
The details of the discovery are exciting to those who care about this chapter of history during which the second Jewish commonwealth ended. Archeologists have uncovered the remains of the “Third Wall” that protected the northern extremity of the capital during the Roman siege that ended in the city’s destruction as well as the burning of the Second Temple. The dig, which was supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority, also found the remains of one of the guard towers that dotted the defensive structure as well as stones that were the ammunition for catapults the Romans used to pummel and ultimately break through the wall, as the historian Josephus attested. The defeat of the defenders at this spot gave the Romans the chance to get inside the city. It would take them another two and a half months to get through the other two inner walls and begin the orgy of murder and destruction that ended Jewish independence for two millennia.
It is hardly surprising that such fascinating artifacts could be found in the heart of Jerusalem. And that is the problem for the Palestinians and their supporters in institutions like UNESCO. All you have to do to prove the existence of historic Jewish ties to Jerusalem is to start digging virtually anywhere in the city or, for that matter, anywhere in the country. That’s why Palestinians and their supporters are so quick to resist archeological work in and around the Old City such as the separate dig at the City of David—a site that points to an even more ancient Jewish kingdom a thousand years before the Romans laid waste to the city.
Pretending, as the Palestinians and now the majority at the UN agency that claims to be its educational, scientific and cultural organization do, that the Temple Mount and the Western Wall—the heart of the Jewish city that the Third Wall was built to protect—is Muslim a statement of astonishing ignorance. The stones of the Temple Mount and the remains of part of its outer enclosure that make up the Wall are living evidence of 3,000 years of Jewish history as well as the events and places that are integral to the beginnings of Christianity. But it’s far more than that. This revisionism is at the center of a century-old effort to deny Jewish history and the rights of the Jewish people to their homeland and its capital.
If the goal of the Palestinians were to share the land via a two-state solution, as their apologists claim, archeology would be no threat to them. After all, Israel has allowed Muslim religious authorities to administer the Temple Mount since the city’s unification in 1967 without interference. That has continued even though the Wakf, which controls the mosques built on top of the remains of the Temple, has undertaken construction projects that amounted to a massive act of vandalism that resulted in the destruction of artifacts that have been dumped outside the Old City walls. But unfortunately the Palestinians continue to view the conflict over the land to be a zero sum game in which any trace of Jewish ties must be erased in order to justify their continued struggle to eliminate modern Israel.
It is in this context that UNESCO’s despicable votes that validate Palestinian revisionism must be viewed. But the same can also be said of similar efforts to erase Jewish history elsewhere, including in the West Bank. This month the Obama administration went out of its way to make an issue of the building of homes inside the settlement of Shilo, which was built on the site of the Biblical tabernacle, a fact also proved by archeological digs. Treating Jewish life at such a place as illegitimate requires a similarly anti-historical mindset that we’ve seen at UNESCO.
The point here is that one doesn’t have to oppose a two-state solution to assert that Jews have rights throughout the country and that the effort to deny them is an expression of anti-Semitism as well as key to a campaign to undermine Israel’s existence. In a negotiation predicated by a genuine mutual commitment to coexistence, Jerusalem might be shared in some way and Jews might continue to live in peace and security in places like Shilo, just as Arabs live inside pre-1967. But instead, the Palestinians continue to act in a manner that is the moral equivalent of the attack on the wall that the Romans destroyed 1,946 years ago. That’s a thought that should only stiffen the resolve of Israel and its friends to ensure that Jerusalem’s walls are never again breached.