Danny Rubenstein
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 12, 2007 - 2:18pm

The uncovering of ancient sites currently taking place on the City of David hill, on the slope south of the wall around Jerusalem's Old City, is almost certainly the most impressive archaeological enterprise in Israel today. During a visit there during the Sukkot holiday, one could see thousands of visitors, tourists from abroad and Israelis. They toured the visitors' center on top of the hill, descended to the large area of Warren's Shaft, named after Charles Warren, the famous Welsh officer and researcher of Jerusalem who discovered the shaft 140 years ago, and continued from there to the relatively new digs at the Silwan Pool. Anyone who made an effort could peer through the fence at the deep digs being carried out in the area called Givati parking lot, and in another area that extends southward on the slope.

The discoveries are fascinating: sections of ancient streets, water projects that have been in place since they were constructed over 2,000 years ago, remains of palaces that are hard to identify because on the City of David hill about 20 stages of settlement have been found, dating from its founding until the Middle Ages.

The discoveries involve a series of problems, almost all of them political. Because Jerusalem will be central to the negotiations to be renewed shortly between Israel and the Palestinians, these problems must be addressed.

The digs at the site are being conducted by archaeologists, with authority and permission, but the administration of the various sites is in effect in the hands of the Elad association (a Hebrew acronym for To the City of David), which was established more than 20 years ago and whose goal is to settle Jews on the site. There are similar associations that purchase assets and settle Jews (mainly yeshiva students) in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and these things are known. However, there is nothing like this association, which has become an empire of archaeology and tourism. It is headed by David (Davideleh) Beeri, an energetic man who is succeeding in raising money and enlisting support, and his work has expanded the activity of the association relating to archaeology and tourism beyond the City of David as well.

The deliberate settling of Jews in the heart of East Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods is an unacceptable act of incitement. Thirty years ago Mohammed Said Burkan wanted to buy a house in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and his request was denied. He turned to the High Court of Justice, and Justice Haim Cohen, who rejected his request, determined that there was no discrimination in the fact that the Jews would have a quarter of their own, as in the past. "Each quarter and its ethnic group," wrote the justice. After the state denied Burkan, why shouldn't the Arab neighborhoods remain Arab?

The settlers of Elad on the outskirts of the village of Silwan acquired mainly houses and land purchased at the time by Baron Rothschild. The same is being done by similar associations in East Jerusalem, which locate land and assets purchased before 1948 by Jews and demand ownership of them. The Arabs, on the other hand, cannot demand assets they owned in Jerusalem?s Katamon neighborhood, in Jaffa, in Haifa and all over Israel, because in the 1950s the Knesset passed a retroactive law that is far from being a credit to our law books, and that prevents Arabs from receiving their property.

Although the settlement of Elad in Silwan is unacceptable, there is no reason to object to the archaeological digs that are taking place under Elad?s sponsorship. This is in effect a continuation of the comprehensive archaeological research being done in the Jewish Quarter, at the southern wall of the Temple Mount, and in other locations in East Jerusalem. Some people claim that the members of Elad are exploiting archaeology, enlisting it to their political needs, converting it by searching for Jewish remains only. That may be. But who can remain unmoved by the important addition to the study of Jerusalem's past that is now being revealed by the City of David digs?


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