Press Release – The Israel Antiquities Authority’s plan to excavate beneath Silwan, all the way to the Western Wall Plaza
On Sunday, May 28 the Israel Antiquities Authority presented the “Shalem Plan” the purpose of which is to conduct extensive underground excavations from Silwan to the Western Wall Plaza. The plan includes excavating extensive areas under residential homes in Silwan and under the Western Wall and the Old City walls, to form one route that will combine paths above and below ground.
The plan itself is not new, but its introduction at the government meeting indicates the intention to advanced it in the coming years. Creating an archaeological city from Silwan to the Western Wall Plaza, and onward through the Western Wall Tunnels beneath the Muslim Quarter will result in one continuous space which will be homogenous in terms of the content and messages marketed to hundreds of thousands of visitors. Its purpose will be to erase the multicultural history and religious and ethnic diversity that emerge from the ruins. The government does not try to hide the political aims of the project, which are to use antiquities to establish facts on the ground that bolster the case for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s Historic Basin.
On Sunday, the weekly government meeting took place within the Western Wall Tunnels beneath the Muslim quarter. It was devoted to advancing various plans for tourism development in the southern section of the Old City: the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall Plaza and the City of David. The government officials did not try to hide the political intentions behind their massive advancement of archaeological-tourism projects.
Minister of Culture Miri Regev said: “these excavations revive the Old Testament and strengthen our greatest “Kushan” (possession title), as Ben Gurion put it.” During the meeting, Minister Regev added that the people of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the organizations that operate alongside them are vital for a number of reasons. “First of all, it is vital on the educational level – for the resilience of Israeli society and the identity of the next generation. Second, it is vital for the diaspora Jews, who are bonded to modern Israel through Jerusalem and the Jewish history that is alive here. In addition, these stones tell the world, better than all of us, to whom Jerusalem belongs. This is of great significance for tourism and everything it entails.”
The plan presented at the government meeting introduces extensive excavation work beneath the village of Silwan, and the paving of a tourist route which will lead to the Kedem Center, to be built at the entrance to the village of Silwan. The route will continue beneath the Old City Walls, up to the Western Wall Plaza. The area under the Western Wall will be fully excavated and an additional level to the current day plaza will be created. From the Western Wall it will be possible to walk to the Western Wall Tunnels, at the north of the plaza and ending at the Via Dolorosa in the Muslim Quarter.
Government ministers and officials of the Israel Antiquities Authority explicitly state that the excavations are meant to strengthen the ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. What they do not say is that strengthening these ties comes at the expense of Palestinian and other groups’ historical ties to the city. Implementing the project will create a new-Old City that ignores thousands of years of history and the fabric of life of the Palestinians presently living in Silwan, and in other areas of East Jerusalem. As far as the Israeli government is concerned, this is a central step in creating facts on the ground that will determine the future rule of the Jerusalem’s Historic Basin.
We demand a stop to the constant use of archaeology as a weapon for advancing national political aims. Remains of the past were not intended for proving a Kushan/ownership by one particular nation. It is in all of our interests to embrace and represent the many nations and groups and their cultural, historical and religious ties to this city, which was never just “Jewish” or just “Muslim”.