Israeli media sources have reported that the occupation authorities are making final preparations to open a series of tunnels in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The network extends under the boundaries of the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) and into the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The tunnels have been dug in phases over the past 40 years and link together through a planned network with its main entrance in the district of Silwan, near Al-Aqsa, and through the Wailing Wall (the western wall of Al-Aqsa sanctuary), to reach the centre of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City; several settlement units and a synagogue have been established there.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, 20 April, the Israeli authorities expect the tunnel network to be a tourist attraction, with up to half-a-million foreign visitors annually. They will enter through Silwan and walk underground to Jerusalem’s Old City.
The newspaper quoted official sources as saying that the tunnel project is intended to strengthen the settlements in the Muslim Quarter by linking them to the settlements in Silwan.
“These tunnels constitute a third dimension for settlement activity in Jerusalem, in addition to the settlement areas spread in the city and the religious dimension constituted in the Wailing Wall and other synagogues,” said the unnamed sources. One Israeli entity didn’t rule out the possibility that settlers may use tunnels in the future and for the Old City to be evacuated in the context of a “permanent settlement”.
The Haaretz report said that the excavations have damaged the archaeological heritage under the city for the sake of justifying the “Jewish account” of its history. Layers of Muslim and Christian heritage have been destroyed to reach the “Jewish days”. The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Elad Settlement Association have been criticised for distorting the history of Jerusalem and Judaism – which existed in the city for a relatively short period – while ignoring the other civilisations which existed in the city over many centuries.
Israeli archeologist Yoram Tseverir noted that excavations under Al-Aqsa Mosque are “wrong” and can’t lead to any scientific findings: “The claims that these excavations aim at finding scientific information are marginal,” he said.