At 1 p.m. on July 22, 1981, the rabbi accountable for Judaism’s most sacred place of worship obtained a telephone name from his building supervisor.
“He instructed me about a tremendous discovery of an enormous corridor behind the Western Wall,” wrote Rabbi Yehuda Getz in his diary. Excited, Getz rushed from his workplace by the Western Wall Plaza to a close-by metallic door. Unlocking the gate, he walked briskly by way of historical, vaulted rooms initially excavated by British archaeologist Charles Warren greater than a century earlier than. Then he entered the well-lit however perpetually damp passage main north. Begun in secret by Israeli rabbis after the Six Day Warfare in 1967, the tunnel was supposed to reveal the foundations of the large wall that lay hid beneath town’s Muslim Quarter.
The passage was, on common, 5 toes extensive and 7 toes excessive, bored by way of the stone of medieval foundations and floored with picket boards that lined yawning cisterns. The decrease programs of the Western Wall had been on his proper. Past them, to the east, lay the honeycombed inside beneath what Jews name the Temple Mount, the positioning of the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. For Muslims, it’s the Noble Sanctuary, a platform supporting the Dome of the Rock marking the spot the place the prophet Mohammad was mentioned to have launched into a mystical journey to heaven.
Close to the tunnel’s finish, Getz reached an historical gate uncovered by Warren that when led into the inside of the sacred platform however had been walled up centuries earlier than. There he discovered what he later mentioned was a two-foot-wide gap puncturing the long-sealed entrance main into the sacred platform’s bowels. Underneath the prevailing establishment, nobody was permitted to broach this border. The rabbi’s diary doesn’t clarify who made the opening or why.
“A protracted hour I sat there, helpless, with boiling-hot tears working down from my eyes,” wrote Getz. “Finally, I gathered braveness and with awe and compassion I entered.” The rabbi seated himself on the steps main into the chamber and mentioned the Tikkun Chatzot, the midnight prayer expressing mourning for the destruction of the temple.
Then he stood. A set of stone stairs led down from the within of the gate right into a vaulted corridor. Twenty-six toes extensive, thirty-three toes excessive, and practically 100 toes lengthy, it was partially submerged within the typical underground Jerusalem cocktail of water, mud, and sewage.
Getz suspected the passageway was utilized by clergymen to entry the Jewish temple earlier than it had been blocked on each the japanese and western ends to create the cistern. He consulted along with his excavation engineer. The 2 agreed that step one was to take away the water and muck. Then he ordered the outlet to be briefly sealed “for safety causes” and known as Israel’s chief rabbis: Shlomo Goren, the chief of the religion’s Ashkenazim, and Ovadia Yosef, the chief of the Sephardim. Getz additionally known as the minister of religions, Aharon Abuhatzira, nephew to a well-known Kabbalah sage from Morocco.
By 6 p.m., the 4 males had been inspecting the inside of the cistern. Goren chanted a couple of Psalms—considerably theatrically, in line with Getz—and guaranteed him that nobody would cease his excavation crew. He walked Getz to his Jewish Quarter residence, saying mysteriously, “Now we are going to know the entire fact. I’m blessed that I obtained that privilege.”
The following morning, Getz ordered the venture electrician to put in lights in a nook of the cistern. The water pump, nonetheless, proved ineffective at draining the cistern. The next day, he known as the director of Jerusalem’s hearth division, who agreed to offer a extra environment friendly electrical pump and steered sending a crew of Arab staff to assist. “We refused, after all,” the rabbi wrote.
On the afternoon of July 30, Rabbi Yosef and a number of other rabbinical judges arrived to debate turning the drained cistern right into a synagogue. Coming into the Noble Sanctuary was a Jewish non secular taboo. Because the location of the Holy of Holies—the innermost a part of the vanished temple–was not recognized, it is likely to be tread upon accidentally. The rabbis, nonetheless, believed that it was acceptable to worship beneath the Temple Mount.
However phrase of the rabbinic discovery leaked. At 8:00 a.m. on August 27, the hourly bulletin on Israel Nationwide Radio opened with a report on the tunnel. Early that very same afternoon, Arab staff despatched by directors of the waqf, the Islamic charitable belief charged with managing the Noble Sanctuary, entered the cistern from two manholes within the ceiling and commenced carrying constructing supplies into the area to seal up the wall. Alerted to the information, Getz rushed from his residence within the close by Jewish Quarter. His alarmed spouse adopted and was shaken to search out him standing within the cistern, now stuffed with Arabs holding instruments. She ran out of the tunnel to the plaza and known as on worshippers to guard the rabbi from what she thought was sure dying.
“I stood alone in entrance of them,” he mentioned later. “I used to be not about to go down quietly.” He shone a brilliant building gentle on the employees to intimidate them, after which left to name Goren on a close-by telephone to beg for assist.
Getz went again to the cistern to face the Muslims by himself. “I discovered that the Arabs had entered the synagogue intending to dam the entry and permit their males to construct a wall,” he wrote in his diary. “Backed alone within the nook, I couldn’t cease them.” One report had him pulling a gun on the Arabs. When Goren arrived on the Western Wall, he noticed what he described as “tons of” of police, together with the chief of police, and hurried to the opened underground gate. He claimed there have been additionally “tons of of Arabs” within the cistern “coming in from all sides—and crying and shouting.” Goren mentioned he known as for assist from college students from a close-by yeshiva, a Jewish non secular faculty, “and some hundred got here with weapons.”
Isam Awwad, the waqf’s chief architect, instructed a much less dramatic story. He and his colleagues had been intently monitoring the Israeli incursion and determined it was time to cease the invaders. “We despatched ten of our Arab staff into the cistern with bricks and mortar to seal up the wall,” he mentioned in an interview. “I used to be there inside with them.”
Regardless of the exact numbers, Jewish worshippers broke into the area and commenced to combat with the Arab staff, one in all whom was injured by a damaged bottle. “A border policeman needed to be restrained from opening hearth with an M-16 computerized rifle, and the 2 sides had been persuaded to withdraw,” in line with the Guardian. Two folks had been barely injured within the temporary scuffle, and the police arrested a number of Jews and at the least one Arab. A massacre was narrowly prevented. The waqf’s choice to shortly seal the gate and a right away Israeli authorities denial of any position within the penetration of the sacred platform prevented what may need sparked a regional struggle.
That night time, earlier than going to sleep, Getz wrote bitterly, “I’ve by no means felt the humiliation of Jews like at the moment—and in our personal sovereign state!” Police later questioned the rabbi, noting that witnesses claimed he “gave orders to kill Arabs,” which he dismissed as a lie. He was by no means charged with any crime and maintained his necessary place till his dying in 1995.
In his diaries, Rabbi Getz comes throughout as a deeply pious man, one who merely needed to create a prayer area as near the Holy of Holies as potential. But his writings don’t inform the total story. What precisely was the mysterious “inheritance” that he longed for on the night time of September 4, as he stood beside the now-sealed gate? And what was “the entire fact” that Goren had alluded to?
It was solely a lot later that the true purpose of Getz, and the key participation of senior Israeli authorities officers within the effort, got here to gentle. They’d been looking for the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred field that the Hebrew Bible mentioned contained the Ten Commandments and which had sat within the Holy of Holies within the temple constructed by King Solomon. They had been guided partially by Maimonides, the twelfth-century Jewish thinker—recognized by some because the Ark of God—who wrote that Solomon anticipated the temple’s destruction and “constructed a construction by which to cover the Ark, down under in deep and twisting hid locations.” That perception persevered.
Getz’s daughter, Lily Horowitz, confirmed the hunt. “Dad was striving to search out the Ark of the Covenant buried beneath the Temple Mount by King Josiah of Judah,” she mentioned. “He needed to search out the Ark of the Covenant to carry salvation nearer. Due to its sacredness, my father was keen to threat his life. This was a part of the redemption that comes with resurrection.”
One of many rabbi’s grandsons, Adiel Getz, added that his grandfather had lengthy been satisfied that the cistern “might result in the chamber the place the Ark is hid, and above it, on floor stage, to the place of the altar.” One other grandson, Yiftach Getz, mentioned that “the dig for him had a messianic that means. With the invention of the place of the altar, he hoped, the righteous Messiah might reveal himself. He needed to search out the Ark of the Covenant. He hoped it might be discovered within the tunnels.”
Many years later, a extra detailed model of Getz’s incursion implicated one in all Israel’s most infamous intelligence brokers within the operation’s planning and execution. That man was Rafi Eitan, greatest recognized for main the crew that captured Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who helped devise the Holocaust. In 1960, Eitan introduced him from Argentina for trial in Jerusalem, the place Eichmann was hanged.
“Because the excavation of the tunnels progressed, I met with Rabbi Getz virtually every day,” he instructed creator Hila Volberstein. “Along with him, I studied the construction of the Holy Temple and its dimensions. We drew conclusions as to the placement of the Holy Temple and the Holy of Holies.” He was wanting to discover past Warren’s Gate, which they each believed had been utilized by the temple clergymen to entry the sanctuary. “We assumed that if we made a gap within the wall to the east, we might transfer ahead and finally attain the Holy of Holies.” This was the place they anticipated to search out the ark, together with different priceless temple treasures. “However we waited for the correct time to make the opening.”
Eitan was not the one senior official conscious of the seek for the Ark. The incident alarmed the U.S. ambassador to Israel, who was already fuming on the nation’s latest bombing of an Iraqi nuclear facility and an assault on Beirut that killed tons of of civilians. Underneath strain from the People, the Israeli authorities arrange a panel to analyze the Temple Mount penetration. The committee decided that the outlet made within the gate was no accident, and that Protection Minister Ariel Sharon had personally given the inexperienced gentle. A surviving member of the panel, Israeli archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov, later mentioned that the minister of non secular affairs ordered that conclusion stricken, and the blame as an alternative placed on a botched try to repair a water leak. “How might we in any other case present our faces to the People?” Ben-Dov recollects him saying.
Till shortly earlier than his dying, Getz remained publicly silent on the true purpose of the excavators. Within the early Nineteen Nineties, nonetheless, he insisted that he had seen the Ark along with his personal eyes earlier than being foiled in his effort to get better the sacred artifact. “I can affirm to you that we all know the precise location of the Ark,” he wrote in response to a 1993 question. It’s a declare that archaeologists contemplate to be as fantastical because the Harrison Ford film. But Muslim officers on the Noble Sanctuary stay on alert. Twice a day, their guards measure the water ranges within the many cisterns beneath the platform, to see if the Israelis have drained water to entry the subterranean world beneath their toes. Forty years later, Ark fever nonetheless exerts a grip on the creativeness—and a risk to world peace.
Tailored with permission from Under Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World’s Most Contested City by Andrew Lawler. Courtesy of Doubleday.