A project to search for archaeological artifacts in soil removed from Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in the 1990s will continue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Wednesday, saying it had secured funding to keep it afloat.
On Monday, the Temple Mount Sifting Project, headed by archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, announced it was on the verge of closure because the Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, which had financed it for 12 years, was pulling its funding.
“The Ir David Foundation, headed by David Be’eri, will continue to fund the important project,” the Prime Minister’s Office said Wednesday.
In a statement, the PMO said Be’eri and the director general of the Israel Antiquities Authority would meet in the coming days with the people involved with the project.
In the 1990s, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf — the institution overseeing the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound — excavated a section of the Temple Mount to build a subterranean mosque in an area known as Solomon’s Stables.
Tens of thousands of tons of dirt — roughly 400 truckloads — were excavated by heavy machinery, without the supervision of archaeologists, and dumped outside the Old City.
The piles of earth sat in the Kidron Valley for over four years until the sifting project began in 2004. Since then, more than a quarter of a million volunteers from around the world have taken part in sifting through the dirt piles and picking out archaeological fragments.
Ir David founder Be’eri — a controversial right-wing activist who has led the movement to renovate the City of David and increase the Jewish presence in largely Arab East Jerusalem — last month won the prestigious Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.
In a statement at the time, Education Minister Naftali Bennett praised him as “one of the greatest builders of Jerusalem during the modern era,” tying his awarding of the prize to the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War.