Western Wall project threatens history, archaeologists warn

Antiquities authority counters: Construction is done according to protocol and with proper preservation work

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Construction work in the courtyard of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, February 2013 (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Construction work in the courtyard of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, February 2013 (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Archaeologists expressed deep concern over construction and renovation works at the Western Wall enclosure in Jerusalem’s Old City, Maariv reported Tuesday. The work, they said, would greatly damage artifacts under the plaza floor, which would be lost forever.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said in response that extensive preservation work was being conducted at the site.

The ongoing project, which was given the green light in 2009, looks to build a new visitors’ center, expand the public restrooms and add an additional floor to the existing plaza.

According to Maariv, there was no proper examination of the site for possible archaeological finds prior to the excavation work, as is mandatory in digs throughout Jerusalem. The paper charged that the Israeli Antiquities Authority had “given up” in advance on any find that might be below the surface.

Workers are driving 10- to 12-meter-long beams into the ground, archaeologist Amos Kloner was quoted as saying. “It’s unbelievable that such a thing is happening in Jerusalem, and more specifically at the Western Wall. Right now there’s a large bulldozer working on site, and I can’t believe such a thing is happening.”

“If you decide to build, there needs to be a full archaeological excavation,” Kloner told IAA officials before the project was set in motion. “You don’t need to dig in the Western Wall plaza, which should be left as is.”

The archaeologists present in the discussions, the report said, had cautioned that there were likely remains from the Roman era buried under the plaza floor, especially artifacts from Aelia Capitolina, the city built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian on the ruins of Jerusalem.

Kloner warned that “such a dig could be a lethal blow to history.”

IAA director Shuka Dorfman told the paper that the plaza wouldn’t be damaged as a result of the construction work. “The criticism is legitimate, but we’re moving toward a project of digging the entire Western Wall plaza,” he said. “In archaeological digs sometimes you have to compromise.”

In a statement, the IAA said the project was started only after it was approved by all the relevant professional forums.

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