Historical Revisionism on the Temple Mount

Last week, clashes on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem provided a Fatah spokesman, Dmitri Dilani, another opportunity to reaffirm the Palestinian Authority's denial of any Christian or Jewish historical connection to the Temple Mount. "Do not call it the Temple Mount," Dilani corrected an American interviewer. "No one can find any trace of the Temple. The area you refer to is only a Muslim holy site."

It seems Iranian President Ahmadinejad's holocaust denial is not the only historical revisionism taking root in Middle Eastern politics. The assertion that no Judeo-Christian history ever happened in Jerusalem is fast becoming a central tenet of Palestinian nationalism.

Last month, the top religious official in the Palestinian Authority, Sheik Tamimi, issued a more sweeping denial of any ancient Hebraic or early Christian presence in Jerusalem, saying all excavated artifacts proving those traditions' historical link to the Mount are "forgeries." In Jerusalem, archaeology has long been politics, but this open rejection of a Judeo-Christian connection to Jerusalem has become -- like a weed slowly swallowing an ancient ruin -- a growing force that may permanently endanger Jerusalem's ancient and modern past.

During the research for my recent novel, The Last Ember, I saw the physical consequences of this revisionism. The Waqf Authority -- the Islamic land trust that has administered the Temple Mount since the 12th century -- has used bulldozers to destroy Judeo-Christian ruins beneath the Mount. I toured the rubble firsthand and saw the crushed Herodian-era glass, Temple pottery, and smashed Templar crosses. The Israeli archaeologists sifted through the piles like medics surveying a battlefield with no survivors.

The Supreme Court of Israel has declared that the Waqf Authority violated antiquities laws on 35 occasions by removing more than twenty thousands of tons of archaeologically rich soil, and dumping them in the adjacent Kidron Valley. Because of the touchy international jurisdiction of the Mount, neither UNESCO officials nor Israeli archaeologists can enforce archaeological supervision. The Waqf carefully regulates the entrance of non-Muslims like Manchu priests guarding the forbidden city. Christians and Jews may enter only four hours daily, and no non-Muslim prayer is permitted on the sacred site.

In 2007, a U.S. Congressional bill was introduced "condemning the Waqf's digging activities at the Temple Mount site and deploring the destruction of artifacts vitally important to Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths."

Sadly, the media response to this pandemic of physical revisionism on the Temple Mount has been silence. The UN World Heritage Sites Committee has not pressured the Waqf to permit supervision of its construction of subterranean mosques beneath the Temple Mount.

Before the UN last week, Netanyahu responded to Ahmadinejad's modern revisionism by holding up a photocopy of a Nazi memo that outlined the extermination of the Jewish race. But he combated the ancient revisionism, too. He quoted the inscription on a UN building near where he stood. "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation," he told the other UN delegates, reminding them that those words were written by the Jewish prophet Isiah in Jerusalem nearly 3000 years before. "We are not strangers to that land."

Ancient historical revisionism has consequences beyond the history books, as special U.N. envoy George Mitchell's failure last month to bridge gaps between Israel and the Palestinian negotiators reminds us. Why should the international community be able to assist building the region's future when it won't commit to protecting the last ember of its ancient past?