From Silwan to the Temple Mount: Archaeological Excavations as a Means of Control in the Village of Silwan and in Jerusalem’s Old City


Israeli activity in the Old City of Jerusalem since 2005, which has intensified in recent years, has focused on archaeological excavations and on the advancement of construction plans for public and tourist buildings on the excavation grounds, mainly in the vicinity of the Temple Mount/al-Haram a-Sharif and the Village of Silwan. The archaeological excavations have become a main channel for efforts to create a new “Old City.” Excavation sites are changing the lay of the land, lending force to an historical narrative focusing on the Jewish people, and marginalizing the Palestinian residents from their environment and from their connection to the Temple Mount/al-Haram a-Sharif. The excavations have broad implications for the multi-cultural character of the city and for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this document, we seek to present the main archaeological-tourism initiatives advanced in 2012 and those planned for 2013.


from silwan to tmpl mount map3

According to the view that has gained ground in Israel since the annexation of the Old City to Jerusalem in 1967, the Old City is an inseparable part of Israeli Jerusalem. This idea runs contrary to the international perspective, which views the Old City as part of the West Bank. The Palestinians view the Old City as an integral part of Palestinian Jerusalem, which in the future will be transferred to their jurisdiction in the framework of a political agreement.


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“Beit Haliba” and the Givati Parking Lot: Archaeological Excavations and their Effect on the Status Quo in the Old City of Jerusalem and in Silwan


On February 13, 2012, the Jerusalem Building and Planning District Committee held a discussion on the issue of the construction of a four-story structure on the area known as the Givati Parking Lot in the village of Silwan. Also at the beginning of February, media reports were released about the submission of the building plan for “Beit Haliba”—a three-story building on the Western Wall plaza. On the surface, there is no direct connection between the two building projects (the construction in the Givati Parking Lot is being promoted by Elad, the private settler organization focused on promoting Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem; while “Beit Haliba” is an initiative of the Western Wall Heritage Fund, a governmental organization under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s office). However, if one looks more closely at the two plans, one can discern a similar modus operandi for the procurement and preparation of the areas for construction. It is apparently not by chance that the two plans are being presented to the committee at virtually the same time.


חניון גבעתי על רקע הכפר (Copy)   beit haliba w wall


In this document we examine the significance of the archeological excavations that were conducted before presenting the plans to the construction committees, and the ways in which these excavations have in fact furthered the construction plans. In both cases, before the beginning of excavations, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) agreed to conduct excavations in order to enable eventual construction on the sites. To our understanding, the archeological excavations served as a central factor in the preparation of the area for construction: physically, the salvage excavations help prepare the foundations for construction in the area; and from a public relations perspective, the excavations served to garner public support and interest through the ostensibly disinterested and non-political scientific activity of the archeological excavation.


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From Shiloah to Silwan – A Visitor’s Guide


This guide is based on Emek Shaveh’s archeological tour in the village of Silwan and at the City of David national park. The tour, initiated in 2007, is led by Israeli archeologists in cooperation with Palestinian residents of Silwan.



הכניסה למרכז המבקרים (Copy)   בית ארבע מרחבים - מאה 8 ומגדל מאה 3 לפנהס (Medium)


The guide focuses on the remains of past cultures found in the archeological site of ancient Jerusalem (City of David), while acknowledging the Palestinian village of Silwan in which the site is situated. It gives the visitor the tools for an independent appreciation of the variety of cultures and eras represented at the site, with an emphasis on everyday life.


The village of Silwan is adjacent to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any action taken in an area of conflict affects and is affected by that conflict. Therefore, no archeological excavation, tourist trail, or even tour guide can be free of politics. This guide does not presume to ignore the political situation, nor does it claim to be objective. On the contrary, the goal of the guide is to arouse awareness of the reality in Silwan today, and of the role that archeology plays, both in the conflict and in the understanding of the past of the city.


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Archaeology in the Shadow of the Conflict: The Mound of Ancient Jerusalem (City of David) in Silwan


The subject of this booklet is archaeology in the heart of Jerusalem, one of the most complex cities in the world. We will focus primarily on the mound of ancient Jerusalem, also known as the City of David, located on a ridge south of the Temple Mount, presently part of Palestinian Silwan, and will examine the relationship between archaeological research and the various interest groups active in the village and the site.


שטח ג'י שחפר שילה ובתי הכפר (Medium)   סילוואן מבט לעבר העיר העתיקה (Medium)


Ancient Jerusalem is a unique archaeological site of global importance for three main reasons: It is identified with the beginning of habitation in Jerusalem and was the capital of ancient Israelite kingdoms; it is located in a Palestinian village; and it is close to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif – one of the most politically and religiously sensitive places in the Middle East. All of these characteristics present great challenges to any research undertaken in the area, both from an archaeological perspective and in terms of the social and political implications of the work. In recent years, archaeology has been playing an increasingly crucial role in the political struggle in East Jerusalem in general and the site of ancient Jerusalem/the village of Silwan in particular.


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Film: In the Shadow of King David


Living with King David is no fun. Just ask the people of Silwan, a Palestinian village outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Since the first excavations began in the mid 19th century, archaeologists have come to this picturesque village hunting for the legendary biblical city of King David. But in the last ten years, this obsession with antiquities risks ruining the lives of the people who live here as a constant threat of demolition hovers over their homes. Is the past more important than the present? Or is there another agenda – something more sinister than an innocent love of history – hidden amongst the stones?


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The Yemenite Settlement


In the late 19th century, Jewish Yemenites moved to live in the Arab village of Silwan. Nowadays, among many parties, specifically right-wingers and settlers, the old Yemenite settlement is considered a strong claim to the contemporary Jewish settlement in Silwan. However, the history of the Yemenite Jews in the village was characterized by a long period of peaceful coexistence, respect and mutual aid.  From a letter of gratitude  (Hebrew original here)that the Yemenite Jews sent to their Arab neighbors, we can learn about the devotion and benevolence that the Arabs have shown towards the Yemenites by undauntedly protecting them, and also about the amity and good neighborly relations that prevailed between the two communities.


To read a transcript of the letter (Hebrew), please press here.

letter   silwan 19th ct


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The New Settlement


Elad Association (in Hebrew El Ir David – to the City of David) was established in 1986, and has been operating mainly in the Palestinian village of Silwan in East Jerusalem, south of the Old City and the Temple Mount. The Association’s proclaimed mission is the judaization of Silwan and the creation of a contiguous Jewish presence along the southern slopes of the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa mosque). The report below deals with some important terms, the history of El’ad in Silwan, the Klogman report, and El’ad’s use of archaeology to promote its goals.


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Towards an Inclusive Archaeology in Jerusalem: The Case of Silwan/The City of David


Raphael Greenberg, Tel Aviv University


The village of Silwan, in East Jerusalem, contains the remains of most ancient Jerusalem, often termed “The City of David”. In recent years the excavation and presentation of the archaeology of Silwan has been placed in the hands of a Jewish settler non-governmental organization. Their incorporation of this site into the Jewish-Israeli narrative is multifaceted — mixing religious nationalism with theme-park tourism. As a result, confl ict with local Palestinians occurs at the very basic level of existence, where the past is used to disenfranchise and displace people in the present. The volatile mix of history, religion and politics in the City of David/Silwan threatens any future reconciliation in Jerusalem, which must be based on the empowerment of local people and the adoption of a proactive inclusive archaeological stance in which the many voices of the past are heard.


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Jerusalem’s Kedem Compound from a Resident’s Point of View


Ahmed Qara’in, a resident of Silwan, and a neighbor of the excavation site known as the Givati ​​parking lot, explains, why the ‘Kedem Compound’, which is currently being promoted by Israel, will have a major effect on the daily lives of the residents of Silwan. Additionally Ahmed provides some important arguments why every person, and especially, everyone interested in archeology and history in Jerusalem should oppose the plan.


A Privatized Heritage: How the Israel Antiquities Authority Relinquished Jerusalem’s Past


The following is the first in a series of reports based on internal documents of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) that chart the relationship between the IAA and the El’ad Association, an NGO with a religious-ideological mission to settle Jews in the village of Silwan. The documents, which Emek Shaveh has obtained from the IAA under the Freedom of Information Law, describe the joint activities undertaken by the Antiquities Authority and the El’ad Association in Jerusalem’s historic basin.


As the El’ad Association is not publicly accountable, the information derived from the Antiquities Authority’s documents represents only one side of the dialogue between the two parties. Moreover, the documents we have obtained are partial records, frequently consisting only of brief memoranda, rather than complete transcripts. Nevertheless, this information allows us to outline, in unprecedented detail, a process which began with overt disagreements between El’ad and the Antiquities Authority and evolved into a complex, almost symbiotic, relationship. Without the cooperation of the IAA in Silwan, El’ad’s “City of David” would not be what it is today.

The transcripts, e-mail exchanges and financial balance sheets upon which this report is based tell an extraordinary tale of how a government agency becomes party to the agenda of a right wing association, of how this association’s values are adopted by a public service, and of the manner in which the history of Jerusalem is recast as a marketable national (Israeli) commodity.


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