Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Was There

Caught this in an article in Haaretz and just wanted my readers to know, I was there in the subterranean cistern and stepped inside (but not into the water) and down a step or two.

I was there with Yoel Bin-Nun and Yoel Elitzur investigating what Rabbi Getz had done on special invitation and a day or two later, the fight broke out:

Journalist Nadav Shragai, who investigated the tunnels for his 1995 Hebrew-language book "The Temple Mount Conflict," explains that, according to Maimonides, when King Solomon was building the First Temple he knew it would eventually be destroyed, so he "built a structure in which to hide the Ark, down below in deep and twisting concealed places." Getz believed the Ark of the Covenant, which had not been seen since Solomon's days, was still hidden beneath the Temple Mount. The Ark, Getz believed, would hasten the redemption. Except that his excavations nearly led to bloodshed.

Getz spearheaded the excavation of the Western Wall tunnels, which were meant to expose the western wall of the Temple Mount in its entirety. The tunnels stretch northward from the Western Wall plaza deep into the Muslim Quarter. One visual highlight of the tunnel tour is a colossal carved stone weighing hundreds of tons. Given the limits of Second Temple-era engineering capabilities, it is still unclear how the stone got there. The tunnels also afford visitors the opportunity to pray at the closest point to the Temple's Holy of Holies.

But Getz wanted much more. In 1981, his excavators broke eastward onto the Temple Mount, into an ancient tunnel first excavated by Warren. Getz was looking for signs of the Ark. His excavation was conducted under a heavy cloak of secrecy, with knowledge of it kept even from Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

When Waqf officials discovered the tunnel, a massive altercation broke out between the excavators and Palestinian youths who entered the tunnel from the Temple Mount side. In the wake of the riot, then-Minister of Religious Affairs Yosef Burg, ordered the opening sealed.

In his book, Shragai quotes from the diary of a frustrated Getz, who wrote on September 3, 1981: "A sound of beating, a sound of Arabs in the tunnel. Apparently, they are sealing the inside of the wall with thick concrete. Every shout is like a dagger in my wounded heart. I yelled out: 'O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy Temple have they defiled.' But I must be stronger, and not be broken, for I must continue in my capacity, even if I am alone in the war."


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