Israeli government approved the transfer of operational responsibilities for the Davidson Center to the Elad Foundation
At a government meeting on Sunday, 11 of February 2018, the government approved the agreement to hand to the Elad Foundation operational responsibilities for the Davidson Center archaeological site, located at the foot of the Temple Mount/Haram a-Sharif. This brings to an end negotiations that included a legal battle between the State and the Elad Foundation. The arrangement strengthens Elad’s hold on central antiquity sites in the Old City basin, particularly in the area between the neighborhood of Silwan and the Temple Mount/Haram el-Sharif.
According to a government decision, the Elad Foundation will operate the Davidson Center (no. 6 on the map), but management responsibilities will remain with the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter. It was decided Elad will be responsible only for the southern section of the site, which does not include the area knows as “Robinson’s Arch”, the location of the proposed egalitarian prayer area.
This decision ostensibly limits Elad’s influence at the Davidson Center, but on the other hand it gives Elad a foothold at the site of Israel’s first archaeological excavation in East Jerusalem (conducted in 1968), which is considered the main archaeological site in ancient Jerusalem.
The term “operating”, as opposed to “managing” the site is misleading. On the surface it seems that the site will be managed by a government body (the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter), however, in practice, this is the model used in the City of David, where the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is officially in charge with managing the site, and Elad is in charge with “operating the site. The example of the City of David demonstrates how dominant Elad has become in developing and presenting the site and promoting it for its own ideological purposes. We expect this model to apply to the Davidson Center as well.
The Davidson Center is situated near the Western Wall which naturally is the most highly visited site in Jerusalem. The proximity of the Davidson Center to the Western Wall will enable, in our opinion, the Elad Foundation to increase the number of visitors to the City of David itself, by linking the sites both physically and narratively. This will increase the potential to promote tours which begin at the Pool of Siloam, at the southern perimeter of Wadi Hilweh, and end at the foot of the Temple Mount/Haram el Sharif. Already now these tours feature the Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple Mount as their central theme.
The privatization of an antiquity site which is located at the foot of the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif and adjacent to the western and southern walls involved a long legal negotiation, since in 2000 the Attorney General claimed that sites of national and religious importance such as the Western Wall must be managed by governmental bodies. Since the Davidson Center is adjacent to the western and southern walls, a compromise was reached whereby Elad will be the “operator” not the “manager”, so as to leave room for the government to promote political and security decisions. However, in practice, this step reflects the strong links between the Elad Foundation and the government.