Archaeological work in Israel has caused turmoil that resulted in the deaths of 15 IDF soldiers and more than 60 Palestinians recently. It is very sad that the extension of the Western Wall tunnel should cause so much trouble. The site in question is a unique underground pedestrian tunnel that follows the western wall of the Temple mount. The tunnel has been in use for several decades, but the entrance was also the exit and as the tunnel is long and narrow, visitor capacity was restricted.
The northern end of the tunnel was near a street in the Christian quarter which is part of the famous Via Dolorosa. Opening the northern end would mean that tourists would exit in the middle of that street, benefiting Arab traders there. The Israeli government opened the northern end of the tunnel, thus providing an exit. However, the Palestinians claimed that the tunnel would weaken the foundations which support both the Dome of the Rock (Haram-Esh-Sharif) and the El-Aksa mosque. The tunnel does not go under the Temple mount and there is no likelihood that its construction can harm the foundations. Israelis point out that damage to the foundations could be caused by a new mosque being built in the underground storerooms known by their popular name “Solomon’s Stables” (anachronistically given by the Crusaders in the 12th Century). The floor is being rebuilt, holes are being made in pillars for lighting and archaeological finds, some of them probably from the first century AD, are being covered with debris. The tunnel was not even mentioned at the recent negotiations that preceded the riots.
On the other hand, an IAA expedition along the southwestern corner of the Temple mount in Jerusalem has completed its scientific excavation and the site is now open to the public. The site has been excavated since the 1970s, but only the recent excavation has revealed the Herodian street which crossed the area and ended nearAkkeldema. Visitors can walk on the street which at the time of Jesus was a busy commercial area. Along the street are the entrances to shops and in the foundation of one of them the excavations uncovered the cash assets of the store. All the coins were dated to the middle of the first century AD before the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. The entire area of the Temple mount can be the core of modern pilgrimage for all religions.