THE BATTLE IS ON

The battle is over Jerusalem , and -- do not delude yourself -- it has been going on for some time already. But now it's intensifying.

The genesis of the mess we find ourselves in is the "goodwill" gesture of Moshe Dayan in 1967. For 19 years we Jews were not able to come near the Kotel (then referred to as the Wailing Wall) or the Temple Mount (Har Habayit), our most sacred site, because Jordan controlled the area and made it Judenrein. During the Six Day War we took the Old City of Jerusalem, along with all of eastern Jerusalem. We could have REALLY taken it, as the Jordanians did when it was in their hands -- we could have banished all Arabs from Jerusalem and taken complete control of everything. I'm told the Arabs expected us to do this, for they have an all-or-nothing, winner-take-all approach.

But this was not our approach . And so we allowed Arabs to live in eastern Jerusalem. And, more significantly, Dayan called in the officials of the Muslim Wakf, the Muslim Trust, and told them that we would share: The Kotel was ours, and, as they have structures holy to Islam -- Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque -- on the Temple Mount (which contains the remains of our Temples beneath), the day to day management of the Mount would be theirs, while we retained control of security.

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Dayan didn't perceive precisely whom he was dealing with. What happened is that Israel gave the Arabs a foothold on our most sacred site, and they've grabbed more and more over time in terms of presuming they can do what they wish -- that is, in terms of demonstrating their "rights" and their absolute control.

The riots that set off the second Intifada in 2000 were not spontaneous, they were choreographed. But the trigger that was used, the excuse for the rioting, was the visit to the Mount of Ariel Sharon. It was "offensive" to them. But...excuse me!

What has happened, along with the outrageous demands made by the Arabs, and the attempts to control everything, has been a craven failure on the part of the Israeli government to respond immediately and consistently to these actions. There's enough trouble as it is -- who needs more riots? It's easier to look the other way and let things happen, rather than to protest, intervene, protect our rights and our heritage and make clear who is in charge. A grievous mistake that weakens our position.

It should be noted that the Israeli Antiquities Association , which is an official body, often acquiesces to what the Wakf does or fails to sufficiently monitor what is going on with regard to the Mount, although such monitoring falls within its mandate. Much of the necessary work is attempted by private groups such as the Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount (CPDATM); archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar is a key activist in this group.

Beyond the essential issue of who is in charge , there are two concerns: One is damage to archeological treasures; the other is an attempt by the Wakf to destroy or remove pieces of Jewish history so as it eradicate the evidence of our ancient presence there.

And this is where we now find ourselves.

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In 1999, the Wakf did a very major and illegal excavation into the Mount at an area called Solomon's Stables, where they wanted to construct a huge mosque. In the course of their construction, using heavy equipment, they excavated many tons of soil that contained Jewish archeological remains. This -- 100 trucks' worth -- was dumped in the Kidron Valley where the Arabs assumed it would be abandoned. It was a private -- not government -- archeological venture that raised the money to begin sifting through the debris. Archeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay, under the auspices of Bar Ilan University, moved the debris to a new, safe and protected site. The sifting, which is still on-going, has yielded some excellent archeological finds that would otherwise have been lost; the Ir David Foundation is now involved as well.

Recently, the Arabs began digging a north-south trench on the Temple Mount. This trench, dug with heavy equipment, is between one meter (1.1 yards) and half a meter deep at different points and runs some 400 meters across the Mount. It is apparently being done with Israel Antiquities sanction but the private watchdog group says this is insufficient and precious remains are being damaged and destroyed. They say, at a minimum, that a salvage excavation was necessary to make sure nothing underneath would be damaged.

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In the last several days, there have been a number of things that have taken place with regard to this trench.

-- Israel Antiquities archeologists at the site say that the trench has exposed traces -- artifacts -- of the First Temple period.

-- The Director of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem says these claims regarding the First Temple are baseless, and just being made to try to establish a Jewish link to the area.

-- Most significantly, the Knesset State Control Committee, under the chairmanship of MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP), convened to discuss the issue of destruction of artifacts on the Mount.

But the director-general of the Wakf, Adnan al-Husseini, decided to ignore an invitation to attend the meeting, saying, "The Wakf does not acknowledge Israel's authority in Jerusalem or the Temple Mount…the Wakf boycotts Israeli politicians all the time....This is an Islamic issue that the Muslims should decide upon." He let it be known that he would not attend any formal meeting on the digging on the Mount.

Seems to me the gauntlet has been thrown down and must be picked up quickly.

The Committee has now asked the state controller to compile a report on the archeological excavations being done on the Mount by the Wakf. Said Orlev: "We cannot ignore the fact that the Wakf does not recognize the Knesset and its committees. Its members are carrying out excavations at the Temple Mount, which is a very sensitive, special site."

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And one last challenge regarding Jerusalem to be mentioned here:

The Jerusalem municipality is in the course of constructing a light rail for the city. Arutz Sheva reports that the PA is about to launch a lawsuit in French courts against a French company involved in the construction. The PA claims that the rail is being built in part on "Palestinian" land, i.e., beyond the Green Line. "The light rail system is a means for expanding the Israeli settlement on Jerusalem."

It's only going to get worse , and we had best be strong.

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