Openness needed in Jerusalem’s antiquities

I’ve been keeping an open mind about the recent controversy over construction work near the Mughrabi Gate in Jerusalem [BBC News]. Although it is difficult to keep an open mind when you recall that it was around this time last time last year that the Simon Wiesenthal Centre started constructing their Museum of “Tolerance” on an Arab cemetery [BBC News].

Nevertheless it seems to me that the main problem with archaeological work in Jerusalem is a fundamental lack of trust between the various parties such that no-one has faith in the intentions of the other. So I was intrigued to see this Ynetnews report: Muslim prayer room found near Mugrabi Gate. From the article:

Remains of an ancient Muslim prayer room were found under the dirt embankment adjacent to the Mugrabi Gate in 2004, yet the findings, unearthed after part of the embankment collapsed into the Western Wall compound, were kept secret until now.

The remains apparently date back to the 11th century, the Salah al-Din era known as the Ayub Period and which is of great significance to the Muslim world. This important finding was kept secret in fear that the Muslim community would demand that the site, adjacent to the Western Wall compound, be declared sacred.

One of the Muslim arguments regarding the works taking place near the Mugrabi Bridge is that the destruction of the embankment would damage Muslim sites. The findings published by the Antiquities Authority are likely to support this argument.

Given the all-round problem with trust it seems astonishing that the Israel Antiquities Authority kept these details secret. A little more openness and a collaborative approach with all interested parties may well have calmed fears and avoided an unnecessary dispute.

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