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Op-Ed: Don’t destroy Jerusalem’s ancient treasures!

by Rachel Avraham, Sept 8, 2017

The crowning glory of Jerusalem’s archeology is now in danger in the name of egalitarian worship.  It is time for the Israeli government including the Israeli Supreme Court to heed the call by the archeological community and to not cause further damage to Robinson’s Arch.


The Israeli Supreme Court is set to discuss the Israeli government plan that has since been frozen to set up an egalitarian worship area at Robinson’s Arch, a historically significant and important area which is part of the Jerusalem Archeological Park.  As a concerned Israeli, I am deeply disturbed that an archeological park that displays amazingly well preserved remnants dating from the Second Temple period as well as monumental structures dating to the Christian and Muslim periods of the city can be either destroyed or in a best case scenario damaged by the construction of an egalitarian prayer area at the site.


From the beginning, I would like to state that for me, this is not a religious issue.  I don’t object to the egalitarian worship area at Robinson’s Arch because the Reform and Conservative Movements seek to have an area to perform egalitarian worship.   My objection to this proposal stems from the fact that by using this area for egalitarian worship, thousands of years of Jewish, Muslim and Christian history in Jerusalem can be severely harmed. 


According to a petition that Jerusalem’s archeological community submitted to Netanyahu, “Immediately following the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the area of the garden, as distinct from the area intended for prayer, was allocated for uncovering the remains of Jerusalem's past. Over the course of a decade, an excavation team under the direction of Prof. Benjamin Mazar excavated here and uncovered amazingly well-preserved and breathtaking remains from the Second Temple period that provide a unique view of the magnificence of the city - and of its destruction in 70 CE - at this central location, at the foot of the Temple Mount.”


“This is the only place where one can see the collapsed great stones of the wall of the Temple Mount that fell during the destruction of the Second Temple two thousand years ago,” the petition reads. Indeed, if one visits Robinson’s Arch, one cannot help but determine that this place is worth being saved. Robinson’s Arch is an ancient structure that spanned over a paved Herodian street that contained many stores that catered to local pilgrims and included a historic stairwell, which led from the street to the Royal Stoa on the Temple Mount.


It is critical to note that this arch, the staircase and the street were all in use in the days of Jesus when he spent time on the Temple Mount.  After the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in 70 AD, all that remained of this Herodian Structure can be viewed at Robinson’s Arch and the Jerusalem Archeological Park. Rubble from the Temple Mount’s destruction fell unto the area of Robinson’s Arch and the paved stairwell underneath. In addition, the grove seen along the wall running below Robinson’s Arch on both the western and southern walls was cut by the Umayyad Dynasty between 651 and 750. The Muslims used these groves to hold pipes that supplied water to buildings constructed south of the Temple Mount. In addition, a Hebrew inscription underneath Robinson’s Arch reads: “You shall see and your hearts shall rejoice. Their bones shall flourish like grass.”


However, due to the Israeli government’s decision to permit egalitarian worship in the area, only a 20 meter section of this amazing discovery is still visible today. This is the crowning glory of the archeology of Jerusalem and now it’s being destroyed in order to accommodate a community who makes up barely 75,000 citizens amongst the Israeli Jewish population. This has severely damaged the site since the higher prayer platform overshadows these historic remnants from the Second Temple period.  


With the construction of a new egalitarian worship area at Robinson’s Arch, an additional large platform will need to be built that will cover even more archeological remains including part of the Western Wall itself and its collapsed great stones. Jerusalem’s leading archeologists proclaimed, “If the decision to turn this location into a prayer venue is implemented, the archaeological site will suffer irreparable damage by the structures that will cover the heart of the site and by the ongoing activity ensuing from the conducting of prayer services and celebrations.”


The Reform Movement is known to prioritize the principle of Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World) while stressing that there is no holiness in stones even those at the Western Wall.   Nevertheless, in order to have an egalitarian worship area, the Women of the Wall group is ready to destroy archeological sites, historic remains and antiquities.  They think that their demonstration in favor of egalitarian worship is more important than archeology. It is illogical, immoral and unacceptable.  Their protests for egalitarian worship should remain in the political domain and we should not let them harm Jerusalem’s archeology. It is time for the Israeli government including the Israeli Supreme Court to heed the call by the archeological community and to not cause further damage to Robinson’s Arch.


Rachel Avraham is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”


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