(CNSNews.com) – A long-running campaign by Palestinian leaders and their Islamic bloc allies to deny Jewish heritage in Jerusalem has been dealt a blow with the opening of an excavated ancient road used by Jewish pilgrims 2,000 years ago to ascend to the Temple.
Particularly galling for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was the fact that the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and President Trump’s special representative for Mideast peace negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, participated in the inauguration of the significant archeological site on Sunday.
Friedman used a sledgehammer to break through a ceremonial cardboard wall, revealing the excavated “Pilgrimage Road” – a wide set of stairs and walkway leading from the Pool of Siloam in the City of David south of the Old City to the Temple Mount, location of the biblical Temple.
Now underground – beneath an Arab residential area – the walkway is believed by archeologists to have been built by King Herod 2,000 years ago for Jewish pilgrims to use when going from the pool, where they ceremonially purified themselves, to the Temple.
Historians record masses of worshipers going up to the Temple for the three key annual biblical feasts – Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Feast of Weeks or Pentecost) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). Jesus visited the Temple frequently, as recorded in the New Testament.
In a tweet after the ceremony Greenblatt described the ancient road as “Bedrock (solid) proof of the Judeo-Christian heritage and values that our two countries share.”
But PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat, speaking to reporters in Ramallah, was quoted as saying that the excavation project was “based on a lie that has nothing to do with history.”
On Twitter, Erekat also slammed the American dignitaries for taking part in the event, saying, “One day the US will say that Friedman and Greenblatt were not American diplomates [sic], they were extremist fanatic Israeli settlers.”
PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi called the project a “war crime.”
“We consider the participation of Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman to be criminal collusion in the commission of a war crime that must be condemned as well as universally and unequivocally confronted,” she said in a statement.
Ashrawi appealed to “all relevant multilateral organizations, including [the U.N. cultural agency] UNESCO and the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation], to take immediate steps to protect Jerusalem and Palestinian rights.”
The OIC duly weighed in, accusing Israel in a statement on Tuesday of actions “aimed at changing the historical and legal status of Jerusalem.”
The bloc of Muslim-majority nations “stressed the need to preserve the Arab, Islamic and Christian identity of the city and its cultural heritage, and to safeguard the sanctity of the holy places therein.”
The OIC has backed Palestinian efforts to deny Jewish heritage in Jerusalem, which in some cases have seen officials dispute the existence of the Temple altogether. (The OIC has referred to “the purported temple.”)
The Arab League, in a statement cited by the PLO news agency WAFA, slammed what it depicted as Israeli attempts – with U.S. support – to “judaize” Jerusalem.
Arab League assistant secretary-general Saeed Abu Ali said the participation of Friedman and Greenblatt “proves the American administration’s absolute bias and full adoption of these settlement projects in violation of international consensus and legitimacy.”
Responding to the development Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based institution considered the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam, rejected what it called “a flagrant violation of international law, the principles of religions, and agreed upon international conventions.”
‘Stop pretending it isn’t true’
Responding to the Palestinian criticism, Greenblatt tweeted, “We can’t ‘Judaize’ what history/archaeology show. We can acknowledge it & you can stop pretending it isn’t true! Peace can only be built on truth.”
The Jerusalem Post said in an editorial, “Trying to erase the Bible stories and the thousands of years of Jewish history in which Jerusalem has always been the focus of prayers and yearning does nothing to add credibility to the Palestinian cause.”
In a fundraising appeal Tuesday, the liberal U.S. Jewish group J Street called Friedman’s participation in the event “insane,” noting that past U.S. ambassadors rarely set foot in Jerusalem’s Old City “because they didn’t want to upset the delicate status quo in the city in any way, or appear to be promoting the claims of either side.”
The Temple Mount is the location of two important mosques – including al-Aqsa, regarded by Muslims as Islam’s third-holiest – but it is also the site where the two ancient Jewish Temples stood, as attested by historical, archeological and biblical sources.
The later of those two Temples, the one in which Jesus was dedicated as a baby and later preached, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, 500 years before the birth of Islam’s prophet, Mohammed.
The Temple Mount is Judaism’s most revered site. It came under Israeli sovereignty during the 1967 Six Day War, but Israeli authorities ceded its administration to an Islamic trust, and the nearest point observant Jews are generally able to pray publicly is the Western Wall on its western flank.
Abu Ali of the Arab League claimed this week that UNESCO recognizes Jerusalem as “an exclusive Islamic heritage.”
UNESCO resolutions used to do so implicitly, by referring to the Temple Mount only by its Islamic name, al-Haram al-Sharif.
After it did so in a 2016 resolution, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said in a statement, “The United Nations’ attempt to disconnect the State of Israel from Jerusalem is a one-sided attempt to ignore Israel’s 3,000-year bond to its capital city, and is further evidence of the enormous anti-Israel bias of the U.N.”
Since 2017 UNESCO resolutions have included a reference to the importance of Jerusalem’s Old City “for the three monotheistic religions.”
Islamic Bloc Hails UNESCO Jerusalem Decision: ‘An Exclusively Islamic Holy Site’ (Oct. 18, 2016)