Another Future: Conservation of Antiquities Sites – Suggestions towards a Partial Solution of Jerusalem’s Political Problems

Were we to reduce the political conflict in Jerusalem to a single issue, we might say that it lays mainly on sovereignty in the so-called “historical (holy) basin” of the city – an area that includes the Old City, Mt. of Olives, the village of Silwan and their surroundings. This is an area rich in antiquities sites and structures hundreds of years old that convey the story of the place and portray its typical landscape.
Over the years, archaeology has become a major tool in inculcating into Israeli consciousness the exclusive right to sovereignty in the Old City basin. The archaeological excavations and the antiquities sites occupy the heart of the political struggle, and they constitute a key part of the plans of the Israeli government and the settlers’ organizations to create an  entity belonging in its entirety to the Jewish people.
We wish to evaluate the possibility of preserving the archaeological sites in Jerusalem’s historic basin while taking into consideration the needs of the residents, the various interest groups and the entailing political considerations. Our goal is to offer a fresh political alternative to the way in which archaeological excavations are currently being used. In the first part of this document, we will discuss accepted approaches to the preservation of antiquities in world heritage sites in areas of conflict. In the second section, we intend to focus on the test case of the excavation site known as “The Givati Parking Lot” in the village of Silwan, near the walls of the Old City. This is the largest excavation site that exists today in the historic basin of Jerusalem, as well as one of the most controversial.

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1. Archaeology and Site Conservation in Jerusalem According to International Conventions

Archaeology in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Unique Case of Jerusalem

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. The annexation included, inter alia, the Old City and the village of Silwan, located to its south. No country has recognized this annexation. East Jerusalem is considered an occupied area, destined to be negotiated in a future  political agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) is a fundamental convention focused on the protection of cultural sites in areas under military conflict. UNESCO has also passed two resolutions that discuss in detail the topic of archaeology and the rules that apply to it, prohibiting archaeological excavations in occupied territories with the exception of cases in which they are necessary for the protection or preservation of cultural heritage. Israel is not a signatory to UNESCO resolutions.[1]

Both the conventions and the resolutions (discussed below) are particularly relevant to the case of Jerusalem, due to its international  renown; moreover, in 1981, , at the initiative of the Kingdom of Jordan, the Old City was declared a “World Heritage Site.” It was then further declared an “Endangered World Heritage Site.”[2] Since 2003, UNESCO has operated a program for the preservation of 18 sites in the Old City, but budgeting difficulties and political tensions in the area have delayed its implementation. The plan also includes training programs for the local residents towards conservation of its homes and the surrounding public spaces. In June 2013, at the last minute, the government of Israel cancelled a planned visit of a professional delegation on behalf of UNESCO, aimed at reporting on the project’s progress, claiming that the Palestinian side intended to take advantage of the visit for political purposes.[3]

In the political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the topic of antiquities sites in the occupied territories arose repeatedly.  The Oslo Accords of 1993[4]  proposed the establishment of a joint body addressing the archeological issues, but this did not  materialize. In any case, the Oslo Accords do not apply to East Jerusalem.

Through 2005-2007, a group of Palestinian and Israeli archaeologists (IPAWG)[5] joined forces to formulate principles for managing the archaeological issues in the context of a future peace agreement. The resultant document emphasizes the uniformity of the Israeli and the future Palestinian archaeological landscape, merely divided by political borders. Both entities bear the unconditional responsibility of preserving the archaeological heritage of their landscape. Regarding Jerusalem, the group recommended the establishment of a “heritage area” that would enjoy special protection, in the city’s historic basin. The archaeological sites in the area  would be accessible to all, and research activity by any one of the parties would be carried out in complete transparency . These principles were not adopted by Israel, remaining as suggestions only.

To this day, the topic of archaeological sites in Jerusalem, their administration and manner of presentation, have remained under Israeli control and responsibility. Since 2005, the Israeli government has been aggressively promoting tourism projects in Jerusalem’s historic basin. The initiative focuses on the Old City and the village of Silwan, including the open areas surrounding it. From 2005 to 2013 the government of Israel and the Jerusalem municipality allocated over 620 million ILS for the development of tourism and archaeology in the historic basin area. In 2012 the authorities allocated an additional sum of 350 million ILSfor the continuation of work during 2013-2019.[6] The overall investment totals some 970 million IS.

The Israeli authorities view the excavation sites as a vehicle for changes on the ground, bolstering an historical narrative focused on the Jewish people while excluding the Palestinian residents from their environment and from the context of the Temple Mount / Al-Haram a-Sharif. The excavations have had far-reaching implications for the cultural character of the city and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Basic Principles – International Conventions and the Position of “Emek Shaveh”

The international conventions in the realm of cultural heritage preservation are based on the principle that cultural heritage cannot be treated as merely local, ethnic or national property, but as belonging to all of humanity, and worthy of preservation for future generations. The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) states in its introduction that “damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind.”[7]

The perspective at the core of Emek Shaveh’s work is that antiquities are a cultural property and belong to the entire population. In the case of Jerusalem, the antiquities are of exceptional interest and importance, extending beyond the interests of the two peoples in the conflict. They are of international interest, and their preservation should be treated as such. Consequently, our proposed plan is based on the following principles, which draw from the international conventions in the realm of the preservation of cultural heritage:

  1. The historical city is an expression of the continuum of human cultures in time and space.[8] Various civilizations have made their mark on the city and continue to do so today. A complete presentation of the continuity of cultures is essential for generating recognition of the city’s importance to various ethnic and religious groups.
  2. An antiquities site does not exist in a vacuum, independent of its environment. It is essential to strive for a balance between preservation and protection of cultural heritage, including antiquities sites, economic development (tourism), needs of local residents and environmental considerations.[9]
  3. Sustainable conservation is ineffective (and even impossible) without the cooperation of the local residents..[10] This can be facilitated by the transfer of credible information, and by educational and training programs providing residents with information and raising their awareness of the importance of the preservation of cultural heritage.[11]

2. A Program for the Preservation, Administration and Presentation of Archaeological Sites in Jerusalem – “The Givati Parking Lot” as a Test Case

The view guiding Emek Shaveh is that only a political solution can advance the protection and preservation of the antiquities of the historic basin over time, since sustainable preservation must take into account the needs and desires of all stakeholders in Jerusalem. However, in a situation in which the Israeli authorities and settler organizations are altering reality on a daily basis, proposing practical alternatives to the unilateral policies presently in effect is of preeminent importance. This proposal is intended to advance a number of goals:

  • To generate discussion on the topic of the development and preservation of antiquities in Jerusalem’s historic basin
  • To propose an alternative to the initiatives of expansionist groups and to attenuate their power
  • To encourage the involvement of local residents
  • To promote international involvement (of institutions, organizations, activists) in the preservation of cultural heritage in Jerusalem
  • To create an outline that will serve as a basis for a broad coalition of archaeologists, architects and cultural activists who share a vision of collaboration regarding antiquities sites in Jerusalem

Located outside of the walls of the Old City are many archaeological sites (and holy sites) that are part of the area known as “the holy basin” or “the historic basin” of Jerusalem. According to our perspective and the guidelines of international expert organizations on cultural preservation,[12] the entire area warrants conservation and protection, and the character of the city outside of the walls must also be preserved.

 The “Givati Parking Lot” Site

The excavations in the “Givati Parking Lot” compound, located just a few meters southeast of tbhe Dung Gate, at the edge of the village of Silwan and very close to the Temple Mount, have been proceeding continuously for some seven years. According to the plans of Elad (an Israeli non-profit group that supports Jewish settlement in the village of Silwan andin East Jerusalem), which funds the excavations, a tourism-aimed building  – the Kedem Compound, is slated for construction at the site. This four stories-high compound will span some 5,000 square meters .[13] At its eastern and southern sides, the Givati Parking Lot borders on homes of Palestinian residents, who.  view the excavations as a political initiative, one that burrows beneath their homes and threatens their future. The proposed excavations and construction plans raise many questions regarding how conservation in the Old City and the landscape surrounding the Temple Mount / Al-Haram a-Sharif is being carried out.

'Kedem' center and the archaeological sites (Copy)

Development Plan for the “Givati Parking Lot”

In the past, the parking lot was an open area used by residents of the village. Weddings and parties were held there, and peddlers set up carts to sell their wares to tourists. To our understanding, the excavation is intended to reinforce the site’s connection with the City of David antiquities site, emphasizing its Jewish-Israeli character while obscuring its present identity as part of a Palestinian village. This compound is expected to serve as an alternative to the tourism hub currently located at the Jaffa Gate, which constitutes the beginning of the main tourist route in the Old City. The main activity of the Kedem Compound will be based on tours, particularly of archaeological sites in Silwan, the Mt. Of Olives, the Kidron Valley and the Old City. Some of the routes will run in underground spaces and tunnels excavated by the Antiquities Authority in recent years (see Emek Shaveh’s publication, Jerusalem Underground). The Kedem Compound will heavily affect the landscape between the Old City and Silwan, and alter the manner in which this area is perceived  – as belonging to the State of Israel. Meanwhile, within the Ophel excavation area, south of the Temple Mount / Haram A-Sharif, conservation and development projects are also underway; these, too, will lead to the creation of tourist routes that terminate at the Kedem Compound.

CoD degem   givati west

The construction of such a dominant compound atop antiquities and very close to the walls of the Old City and the Temple Mount, at the entrance to the village of Silwan, poses political, ethical and planning problems: political, because the compound is intended to serve settlers and their partisan ideologies, ethical because it is being imposed on the present-day inhabitants and detracts from their quality of life, and planning because it buries antiquities beneath it and introduces many foreign elements to the heart of the historical basin. These include vehicular traffic and tunnels, which distort the character of the landscape and its context.

The Excavations

The Israeli excavations at the site began in 2003, and were carried out virtually uninterrupted from 2007 to the present. The excavation area is approximately 5,000 square meters – an enormous span for an archaeological excavation, particularly in Jerusalem’s historical basin. The area has been divided into quarters, and the quarters are excavated in turn, contrary to the accepted archaeological method  based on excavation of an entire area at a more-or-less uniform level. The excavation descends to the extreme depth of 20 meters is certain portions. Descending to such a great depth over a broad area prompted the contractors to erect posts to stabilize the walls of the excavated area. The poles will serve in the future as the foundations of the planned building. The extent of the excavation, its depth and use of heavy machinery to erect the poles, testify to the fact that the excavation is intended to prepare the area for construction, and not solely to expose the ancient remains.

Beneath the surface there were the remains of a residential neighborhood from the ‘Abbasid period (8th-9th cent CE); Muslim graves were found nearby. Since this layer revealed a Hebrew inscription, some identify the compound as Jewish or Karaite residences.[14] The ‘Abbasid neighborhood is located atop a layer of Byzantine or Roman structures. A large residential structure from the Late Roman Period (2-3 cent CE), including a mosaic floor, was exposed close to the bedrock at the eastern end of the excavation area. In the northwestern part of the excavation area, a large structure built around a columned atrium (central courtyard) was discovered; in its southern portion, a two-story building from the first century CE was revealed. Beneath this building there was evidence of a destruction phase (perhaps that of 70 CE), as well as artifacts dating to previous periods, as early as the Iron Age.

The main remains that still exist in the area are parts of a large structure from the Early Roman (Second Temple Period), Late Roman and the Byzantine periods.[15] During the years that the excavations were taking place, xceptional findings were unearthed at the site and reported in the press, from the largest cache of Byzantine gold coins ever discovered in Israel,[16] to a structure from the Second Temple period, identified as the palace of Queen Helena of Adiabene (“Heleni HaMalka”).[17]

3.    Suggestions for Conservation of the “Givati Parking Lot” Excavation Site

Based on accepted principles of conservation and preservation in historical cities,[18] and in order to limit to the extent possible unilateral and irreversible activity at this sensitive site, we suggest considering three alternatives for the planned center.

Covering of the Excavation and Returning it to the Public Domain

Archaeological excavation of structures preserved in situ for thousands of years exposes them to danger, whether by the archaeological activity of dismantling remains in order to excavate what lies beneath them, or by the forces of nature and contact with people. Therefore, many archaeologists and conservationists in Israel and abroad support the covering of archaeological sites after excavation to ensure their preservation. In keeping with the international perspective, the Conservation Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority recommends this method.[19]

Adopting this approach, remains are preserved far from the public eye, reducing the risk of damage. The results of the archaeological research, when published, will provide the required scientific information. The covering of remains obviates the need for investing in conservation measures to protect against natural phenomena and destruction by visitors. In the case of the Givati Parking Lot, it is possible to restore the situation to its previous state and turn the area into an open place devoted to public needs, so that residents will be able to resume using it as in the past. The archaeological findings can be presented through multi-lingual explanatory signs, as is the practice in endangered sites covered to ensure their preservation.

The lack of public buildings in the village of Silwan, and the desire of the residents to establish schools, playgrounds, sports fields and the like, can turn the Givati Parking Lot into a public communal space. Since after covering the excavations in earth, the ground becomes unsuitable for the construction of massive buildings such as a multi-storied school, the likely solution for the area is a playground or sports field. The construction of such installations does not require deep excavation, and therefore, there is no concern that they will cause harm to the antiquities.

From a political standpoint, covering the excavation will prevent the Israeli authorities from appropriating the area for their needs, and will moderate the tension that exists between the Israeli settlers in the village and the residents. Leaving the area covered and undeveloped will prevent the houses of Silwan from being visually cut off from the Old City, and on the other hand, will prevent the obstruction of the Old City Wall, and from some angles the Al-Aqsa Mosque, for those arriving from the village of Silwan.

Presentation of Archaeological Finds in the Open Compound

 The area surrounding the Givati Parking Lot includes houses of the Village of Silwan from the east and south, and the Old City wall from the north. Immediately adjacent to the Old City wall towards the east is the area known as “the Ophel Excavations,” a site excavated from the late 1960s through the early 80s. The Ophel Excavation site is bordered by a low fence, and while the public can view them, visitors are unable to enter the site. In such a fashion it is possible to exhibit both the remains from the various periods exposed in the excavation, and the surroundings in which they were found: the Temple Mount / Al-Haram a-Sharif on one side, the Old City wall on the other, and to the east, the Muslim cemetery Bab a-Rahma, the Kidron Stream, and the Mt. of Olives. Leaving the excavation exposed to the public also preserves the connection between the past and the village of Silwan, located on the other side of the road to the south. Conversely, fencing it in and requiring an entrance fee creates a separation between the excavation area and the surrounding space, and prevents free entry to the site. The site is presented mainly to local and western tourists, and explanations relating to the excavation context or to the Muslim  past and connection to the finds in general are lacking.[20]

The excavation in the Givati Parking Lot exposed remains  chronologically similar to those of the Ophel Excavations. Leaving the excavation area open to the public, and presenting the remains from all the periods excavated, will encourage understanding of the space. For example, visitors will learn that the structures from the Byzantine period exposed in the Givati Parking Lot and in the Ophel Excavations bear testimony to the dominance of this period in the city’s history. Moreover, the antiquities will be presented relative to other remains such as the walls of the Old City, and in the case of Silwan, in direct relation to daily life of the inhabitants.

Although the excavations have already changed the topology and the local landscape, presentation of the antiquities alongside the village will make it possible to view the Givati Parking Lot excavations not only as a point-specific entity, but also in the overall context of the history of Jerusalem and life in the historic basin today. Presentation of the remains in a continuous chronology will prevent a situation in which a particular period is emphasized at the expense of another, and will enable all the parties to view the history of the city as part of a complex past, populated by a variety of peoples and cultures.

 A compromise to the proposal to either cover the excavation area, or to leave the entire excavated area for the public’s benefit, would be a combination of the two. Since the excavated area extends over 5,000 sq.m., part of it might be preserved by displaying it as suggested in the previous chapter, while another part could be covered for the residents’ needs and preservation of the remains for generations to come.

Combining the two approaches would strengthen the connection between the residents and the site, since it need also serve as a playground for children of the local community. Such a plan would make it easier to interest the community in the history of the village and the importance of the antiquities exposed at the site. The many parties interested in the city’s history will still be able to visit the antiquities site. This visit will not be cut off from the village located next door, but rather, visitors will view the residents as part of it, and will recognize their place in the site’s continuous settlement.

Management of the Site

Antiquities sites in the Old City of Jerusalem in general, and particularly the Givati Parking Lot site, are interspersed among village residences along the visitors’ route and religious structures such as the Temple Mount / Haram a-Sharif, and historical non-religious sites such as the walls of the Old City. The location of the site, with the addition of the political tension created following excavations there, requires a comprehensive approach to the manner in which it is administered. Similarly to the site’s location between the holy and the mundane, and between tourist routes and residences, so too its administration and the decisions  relating  to its presentation . These must be made by an administrative body comprising professionals (archaeologists, tourism experts and the like), representatives of the religions in Jerusalem, representatives of international organizations that specialize in preservation and protection of heritage sites such as ICOMOS, ICCROM, UNESCO and others, and representatives of the residents of the village of Silwan. Such an administrative body would be equipped to address the needs of the various stakeholders and ensure full transparency and proper administration

To our understanding, in Jerusalem’s political reality today, and in recognition of the unique international status of Jerusalem and its antiquities, there is a need for a significant representation of the international community and reinforcement of the international collaboration as part of the presentation, protection and development of the antiquities in the Givati Parking Lot excavations, and overall in the Jerusalem Basin.

Archaeology and Residents

The excavations in the Givati Parking Lot were carried out against the residents’ will, and they view it as a threat to their identity and rights. The most prominent example is the “Givati” petition submitted by residents and the Peace Now organization to the High Court of Justice in 2008.[21] In the petition, the residents demanded that the excavations be halted immediately, since they were harming their homes and public lands. When there is such great animosity on the part of the local community towards archaeological excavations, preservation and protection of antiquities, the option to proceed with them is at best a compromise that the residents  adjust to for lack of a better option. The best way to preserve antiquities and to transform excavations into an activity accepted by village residents is to take their demands under serious consideration. Indeed, excavations performed in an atmosphere of local rage is not to the long-term benefit of the archaeological research, since it is identified as a hostile entity within the community, even if it yields special discoveries.

If a decision is made to leave the site exposed to the community, an option must be included for residents to enjoy the site’s economic benefits.[22] A space must be allocated for the establishment of tourism businesses (guided tours, souvenirs, eateries, advertisement of guest accommodations, etc.).

All development and construction at the antiquities site must be approved and agreed upon by the village representatives and the residents who live in immediate proximity to the site, and their active involvement in preservation of the site must be encouraged. As stated, the Old City of Jerusalem is of international historical importance and its antiquities and historic buildings are meaningful to billions of people around the world. The interest in Jerusalem’s history is not only intellectual but also religious, and sometimes national. Therefore, management of the sites cannot be confined by local considerations and must include international involvement, in addition to Israelis, Palestinians and local residents, who will join forces and contribute to the city’s welfare.

In such a manner, local residents will enjoy certain advantages, such as accessibility to religious compounds, or economic development opportunities, despite being affected by the disadvantages of life at the heart of human history, where the streets and sites are not just particular to the local community, but part of an international public space.


The suggestions relating to the archaeological excavations being carried out in the Givati Parking Lot are examples of  a concept based on the preservation and protection of antiquities, together with careful consideration of residents’ needs and the creation of a balance between political forces in Jerusalem’s ancient sections.  Collaboration between as many entities as possible in managing the Givati Parking Lot may not only lead to a weakening of extreme groups operating in the Old City at present, but also serve as a basis for dialogue and cooperation between the different political entities. Archaeology is a key means for recognizing the multi-cultural character of Jerusalem.

In this document, we proposed three options: covering the excavation area and using it for community needs, leaving the site exposed to the public, or combining partial covering with partial display of the site. Each proposal bears advantages and disadvantages. While covering the site can serve the residents and better preserve remains, the community-at-large will not enjoy the antiquities exposed. In contrast, leaving the site exposed to the public does not necessarily correspond to the will of the local community, and the authorities will have to deal with protection and preservation of remains over time. The third possibility, of combining partial covering and partial presentation of remains, integrates community needs with those of the visitors or the authorities, but herein, as well, is a disadvantage: it is likely that partial display will not be sufficiently attractive to the visiting public, and partial covering will not satisfy the public. Therefore, these suggestions should not be viewed as an absolute solution. Their main importance is in creating a discussion whose goal is to evaluate how remains from ancient periods in the Old City can constitute a bridge between peoples, rather than serve as a tool for attenuating or increasing the political status of one group or another.

A broad discussion on the preservation of antiquities in Jerusalem’s Old City could strengthen recognition of the right of minorities and stakeholders whose opinion is not heard, not only in area of urban conservation, but also as partners with equal rights. Seemingly, in the long term a reexamination of the manner in which antiquities and excavation sites in the historical basin are presented will be unavoidable, and an understanding that alongside the will to expose and excavate, it is also vital to take into consideration the needs of the residents and the interests of other stakeholders. In this manner, although the topic of the present document is the preservation of antiquities in the historic basin, the many aspects of this field have a decisive impact on the future of the historic basin and the chance of a political solution acceptable to all parties.

[1]   Article 32,UNESCO General Conference, 9th session, 1956  New Delhi  Recommendations

Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, Second Protocol (1999), Article 9.1b

[2] World Heritage Sites List: Old City of Jerusalem – it appears that Israeli activity in the Old City, including destruction of the Mughrabi neighborhood in 1967, had an impact on the declaration. The extensive archaeological excavations in the Old City began in 1968 and continued until the mid-1980s.

[3]  B. Ravid “Israel Nixes UNESCO Jerusalem Visit, Alleging Palestinians Tried to Make it Political,” Haaretz, May 20, 2013.

[4]  The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, Annex III, Appendix 1, Article 2, Paragraph 4

[5] IPAWG University of Southern California, Institute for Shared Heritage

[6]  Government decision 4651, “Development of the City of Jerusalem,” (Hebrew), May 20, 2012.

[7]  Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict Hague Convention (1954)

[8] UNESCO Brochure New Life for Historic Cities (2013)

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] ICOMOS Valletta Principles for the Safeguarding and Management of Historic Cities, Towns and Urban Areas (2011) Article 3h

[12] ICOMOS Valletta Principles for the Safeguarding and Management of Historic Cities, Towns and Urban Areas (2011) Article 3d

[13]  Emek Shaveh report, From Silwan to the Temple Mount, “The Givati Parking Lot.”

[14]  E. Shukron and R. Reich, “Jerusalem, City of David, the Giv’ati Car Park,” Hadashot Archeologiyot 117, 2005.

[15]  D. Ben Ami and Yana Tchehanovetz, Jerusalem, Giv’ati Parking Lot,  Hadashot Archeologiyot 122, 2007.

[16]  Reuters, “Archaeologists Strike Gold in Jerusalem,” ynet English online edition, December 23, 2008,

[17]  Associated Press, Israeli Archaeologists Find 2,000-Year-Old Mansion Linked to Historic Queen, ynet English online edition, December 6, 2007.

[18] ICOMOS Charter for the Conservation of Historic Towns and Urban Areas (1987),  ICOMOS Valletta Principles for the Safeguarding and Management of Historic Cities, Towns and Urban Areas

[19] Antiquities Authority Policy for Conservation of Built Heritage, 2003 (Hebrew) Chapter V, Par. 4.

[20]  The principle of involving the local residents in conservation plans is emphasized in a large number of international conventions dealing with preservation, including World Heritage convention, Article 5.1 (1972)   and the ICOMOS Charter for the Protection of Historic Towns and Urban Areas (1987).

[21]  HCJ 9253/08

[22] ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Charter – Managing Tourism at Places of Heritage Significance (1999), Articles 5.2-5.3

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