El’ad’s involvement in archaeological sites and projects in East Jerusalem


Over the past few years, the Israeli-Jewish campaign for control and sovereignty over Palestinian East Jerusalem has been closely tied with the development and operation of several archaeological sites in that area. The East Jerusalem site which is most strongly identified with the Israeli settler ideology is that of Ancient Jerusalem (the so-called “City of David”), located within the Palestinian village of Silwan, south-east of the Old City walls. For the past decade or so, this site has been operated by the right-wing NGO Elad, which is involved in Jewish settlement activities and the strengthening of the Jewish connection with East Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is well known for its abundance of archeological sites, and they play an important role in defining the character and landscape of the Old City. Many of the archeological sites are located within residential neighborhoods, sometimes even at a distance from the Old City. In this document we list the archeological sites that are operated by settler groups or by Israeli organizations clearly oriented towards strengthening Israeli control over East Jerusalem, and discuss significant developments at these sites in the past year.

The development and operational control of archaeological sites in East Jerusalem is aimed at attracting thousands and even hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Palestinian-inhabited areas, and thereby entails Israeli organizations exercising territorial control in and around the Palestinian-inhabited sites – without them being defined as an Israeli settlement. On the attached map: “Antiquity Sites under the Auspices of the Elad Foundation,” we have marked areas which we have designated as “areas of influence.” As we see it, these spheres of influence include nearby areas in which the character and quality of everyday life are impacted by the tourist sites. The tourists who visit these sites are not made aware that the site they are visiting is in fact located in East Jerusalem, nor are they aware for the most part of the great impact these sites have on the political status quo and the possibility of a future political settlement. Furthermore, at the sites, the visitors are told an exclusive story of Jewish heritage and Israeli connection to the site, whilst other periods and cultures are almost entirely ignored. Finally, the thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of visitors help strengthen Israeli territorial control over East Jerusalem by their very presence at the sites.

1. The Aqueduct in Jabel Mukaber (Armon Hanatziv Tunnel)

The aqueduct is located near the United Nations Jerusalem headquarters, at the southern end of the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, itself a regular stop on tourist itineraries due to its spectacular view of the Old City and Ancient Jerusalem. Some scholars date the construction of the aqueduct to the second and first centuries B.C.E., although other opinions suggest that the aqueduct was built at a later time, in the first to second century C.E. In ancient times, underground aqueducts such as this one were dug as an alternative to above-ground means of water transportation in which topographical variations could hinder the flow of water. This aqueduct was active for thousands of years, beginning with the early Roman Period, continuing throughout the Byzantine Period and the Muslim periods, and up to the Ottoman Period. It has been identified with the route of the so-called lower aqueduct, which channeled water to Jerusalem from springs in the Bethlehem area.[1]

aqueduct armon hanatziv   aqueduct exit

The excavated section of the aqueduct is in fact a man-made tunnel of about 400 meters in length that was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the 1990s and underwent preservation works at the time. For years the tunnel was neglected and closed to the public, due to lack of budget allocations from the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Antiquities Authority. Since 2005, the site has been operated by Elad, which funds and maintains the site. The site is open for visitors by reservation through the City of David website, for groups of 15 or more. The tourist entrance to the aqueduct is located in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood, which was built on land annexed to Jerusalem after 1967. The aqueduct runs underneath the Promenade and exits in the Palestinian village of Jabel Mukaber, in effect expanding the touristic sphere of the promenade into the territory of the village.  Elad’s involvement with tourism on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade strengthens its image as being associated with tourism in Jerusalem as a neutral, a political activity, simply part of the preservation and development of the city’s archeological sites.

2. The Peace Forest/Abu Tur

In 2005, and perhaps as  early as 2004, the Jewish National Fund transferred to Elad one of its buildings located in the area known as the “Peace Forest,” on the northern end of the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, on the outskirts of the Abu-Tur neighborhood. Although the building was later promised to a special education organization to create a center for mentally disabled young people, Elad refused to vacate the site.[2] The activities at the site include sifting soil from the archeological excavations in Silwan/City of David. A similar operation takes place on a broader scale in the Emek Zurim National Park (see the Emek Shaveh publication: “Archaeology on a Slippery Slope”). The site is aimed at young people from youth groups and pre-military academies, who come to learn about the history of the Jerusalem through the lens of the Elad staff. Segway tours embark from the center of the Peace Forest along the Armon Hanatziv Promenade.

peace forest kakal house   peace forest segway

3. The Hinnom Valley / Wadi Rababa

The Hinnom valley begins in West Jerusalem, below the Jerusalem Cinematheque, and stretches eastward all the way to the al-Bustan neighborhood in Silwan. The valley was used for thousands of years as a burial site. It contains tombs dating from as early as the seventh century B.C.E., as well until the 20th century. Information about the archeological importance and political significance of the valley can be found in the Emek Shaveh publication: Main Cemeteries in Jerusalem’s Historical Basin Hinnom Valley/ Wadi Rababa.

In December 2011, Elad submitted a request to the Jerusalem Municipality to establish and operate an information center and restaurant in an isolated house in Abu Tor. The house is located alongside the Wadi Rababa/Hinnom Valley promenade, relatively isolated from the rest of the houses in the Abu Tor neighborhood, which borders the valley from the south. The information center and restaurant will be a destination point for visitors in the valley, thus creating a direct connection between the information provided at the center and the archeological findings in the valley.

hinnom graves   hinnom elad house

4. Ancient Jerusalem / “City of David”

The site of ancient Jerusalem, also known as the City of David, abounds with archeological remains from different periods. The most significant of these are from the eighteenth century B.C.E. (Canaanite Period). It also includes many remains from many periods, up to the Muslim periods in the eighth and ninth centuries C.E. The site is located in the heart of the Palestinian village of Silwan, and its related tourist attractions are spread out in different places, from the entrance of the village and up to the Kidron Valley. You can read Emek Shaveh’s booklet about the role of archeology in the Silwan/City of David conflict here.

Following is a survey of developments in 2012 and their impact on the site:

The Givati Parking Lot:

Slated for construction on the Givati parking lot excavation site (referred to by Elad as the “ancient compound”) is a 9,000 m2 tourist center that will be built to the height of the Old City walls, thus impacting the Old City’s skyline and further impacting on the character of the place and the lives of those who live there. Emek Shaveh published a special report dealing with the role of the archeological excavations in the Givati Parking Lot and their influence on the status quo in the area. (Read this report here.)

In an Israeli government session on May 20, 2012 (on the occasion of Jerusalem Day), it was decided to explore the possibility of housing a planned Museum of the Hebrew Bible  in the structure that has already been approved on the Givati Parking Lot site[3] This decision if implemented will only strengthen the perception of Silwan as an exclusively Jewish-Israeli national heritage site, ignoring the many archeological findings from other cultures, disregarding the Palestinian character of the current village, and neglecting the importance of preserving archeological sites for the benefit of the general public and not for one particular group. In July 2012, Emek Shaveh and the residents of Silwan appealed to UNESCO about the proposed building plan in the Givati Parking Lot and its influence on the Old City walls. The appeal was made to UNESCO since it has declared the Old City walls a World Heritage site.

CoD degem   givati old city

Jeremiah’s Cistern:

Near the entrance to the City of David visitors’ center is a cistern that served the residents of Silwan before they had running water in their homes. When the visitors’ center was built on the site at the beginning of the 2000s, the cistern was renamed “Jeremiah’s Cistern” and was used to illustrate the story of the prophet Jeremiah. Visitors would climb down into the cistern, where they would listen to the biblical story about the Prophet Jeremiah and his imprisonment in a cistern (Jeremiah 38). In the opinion of archeologists, the cistern in fact dates to the Byzantine period or even later—in other words, at least one thousand years after the biblical story. Although this fact is mentioned in some City of David publications, the cumulative effect of the 7-meter well and the biblical story told in the cistern creates the impression that this was indeed the site of Jeremiah’s casting into the cistern.[4] Criticism of the development of “Jeremiah’s Cistern” as a Jewish heritage site, in particular the disparity between the archeological findings and the story being told at the City of David, has come even from archeologists associated with Elad who on the whole agree with the content being conveyed at the City of David site.[5]

In May 2012, the state of Israel and the Jerusalem Municipality approved a budget of 4 million NIS to produce a sound and light show in the cistern telling the story of the prophet Jeremiah.[6]

CoD jeremiah   CoD excavation

Excavation at the Entrance to the Visitors Center:

Since 2011 the Israel Antiquities Authority has been conducting an excavation at the entrance to the City of David visitor center, on Silwan’s main street, about two meters from “Jeremiah’s Cistern.” In this excavation, a mosaic floor and part of a large structure from the late Roman period were revealed.

We assume that the archeological excavation being conducted next to the entrance of the City of David visitors’ center will eventually create an underground connection to the planned project in the Givati Parking Lot.

The Spring House:

During the course of a debate at the Jerusalem District Planning and Building committee of Monday, June 11, 2012, a plan was presented for the preparation and expansion of construction near the Umm al-Daraj/Gihon Spring in Silwan. The plan, submitted by Elad, was presented along with a retroactive license for the existing construction and authorization for further preparation of the surface to serve the visitors of the City of David site, connecting between Warren’s Shaft, the spring, and the beginning of the underground walking trail. The compound includes three structures currently built above and alongside the spring. Above the central structure are plans for the addition of a second floor and balcony looking out over the Wadi and bringing the total area of the buildings to 200 sq. meters.

The spring in Silwan served as the water source for the village for centuries and later as a place of recreation for children and families. Since 1995, archeological excavations have been underway there, the longest ever in Jerusalem. The land was expropriated from the village for use by the settlers and the City of David tourist site. Perceived as a scientific archeological excavation and not as a means of expropriating public lands, this project once again serves to legitimate Israeli control over one of the village’s water sources. The tourist center at the Spring House is an another phase in the settler take-over of the area, which includes the creation of visitors’ centers at the Givati Parking Lot at the north of the village, the Shiloah Pools/Birket al-Hamra in the south of the slope, and more.

5. The Mount of Olives

The Jewish cemetery, originating apparently in the Middle Ages, spreads from the outskirts of the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras al-Amud to the south and up to the Gethsemane Church, the Church of Mary Magdalene, and Dominus Flevit to the north. To the east, the cemetery borders on the Palestinian neighborhoods of A-Tur and A-Sawana (next to the Ma’ale Zeitim settlement in the neighborhood), and to the west it reaches the slopes of the Kidron Valley near “Zacharia’s Tomb” and “Absalom’s Tomb.” In recent years the site has undergone accelerated development, costing tens of millions of shekels,including heightened security at the site, renovation of tombs, and marketing of the site to visitors.[7] The project is being carried out by the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) according to directives from the Israeli government. Elad’s information center on the Mount of Olives includes information about the preservation of the cemetery. Additional details about the activity on the Mount of Olives can be found in the Emek Shaveh publication: Graveyard Metropolis East of Jerusalem’s Old City.

CoD maayan   שטח E ובתי ראס אל-עמוד (Copy)

6. Emek Tzurim

Emek Tzurim is a national park covering 165 dunam to the north-east of Jerusalem’s Old City, at the foothills of Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives. Taking place in the national park since 2005 is the “Temple Mount Sifting Project,” an interactive activity for school children and park visitors. The soil comes from debris from Temple Mount excavations, dumped between 2000 and 2004 by the Muslim Waqf in the Kidron Valley. The project is run and funded by Elad, although it is conducted within the area of the national park, which is under the auspices of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Information about the Sifting Project and its repercussions can be found in a new publication of Emek Shaveh:  Archaeology on a Slippery Slope: Elad’s sifting project in Emek Tzurim National Park,

Summary and Conclusions

Elad’s presence is felt in almost every significant archeological site in East Jerusalem, from the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood in the south of the city to Emek Zurim in the A-Tur neighborhood north-east of the Old City. Still, the heart of the organization’s activity is focused on the village of Silwan and on the City of David site. Besides the direct influence of the narrative told at the various “heritage” sites, these sites have an impact on the life and character of the spaces in which they are located. For example, the lone house in the Hinnom Valley/Wadi Rababa dominates the entire valley; the Mount of Olives information center provides information about the Mount of Olives and the Kidron graves; and the tourist centers in the City of David strengthen Elad’s control over Silwan. The “areas of influence” marked on the attached map overlap with areas under the control of Elad, testifying to the vast impact the tourist trail and the historical story told therein has on an entire area. One can also discern Elad’s hold over the Old City becoming tighter in recent years. The presentation of the sites and their surroundings as part of the Jewish tradition, and their location around the Old City and within the Palestinian neighborhoods bordering the Green Line, obscure the division between East and West Jerusalem, and depict the various parts of Jerusalem as Israeli territory.

Emek Shaveh is committed to the idea that the operation of archeological sites must be contingent upon a solution to the political conflict in Jerusalem. Archeological activity in areas under political dispute strengthens the dominant power and hinders the possibility of reaching a political agreement. Until a solution is reached, archeological sites must be run and operated by government authorities, in cooperation with the international organizations entrusted with heritage sites and with the local inhabitants. Most important, the running of these places must be taken out of the hands of ideologically or religiously motivated groups. The political exploitation of archeological sites in East Jerusalem has created a perception among the Palestinian population that archeology itself is a tool for expropriation and harming their culture and way of life. In such a situation, archeological research itself is compromised.

Jerusalem’s antiquities are of great importance for many communities in Israel and around the world. The presentation of archeological sites as belonging only to one ideological group excludes not only the local residents, but also large parts of the public who would otherwise be interested in the area with its entire rich heritage.

[1] A. Mazar, “A Survey of the Aqueducts leading to Jerusalem,” in D. Amit, Y. Hirschfeld and J. Patrich (eds.), The Aqueducts of Ancient Palestine (Jerusalem, 1989); also: Y. Billig “Innovations in the Study of Jerusalem’s Ancient Aqueducts,” Recent Innovations in the Study of Jerusalem 1 (1995), pp. 37–47. (In Hebrew).

[2] O. Kashti and M. Rapaport, “Settler group refuses to vacate land slated for school for the disabled,” Haaretz (January 15, 2008)

[3] Minutes for Government Session no. 151 on May 20, 2012; Development of the City of Jerusalem, appendix 812, corrected version (in Hebrew).

[4] A video, produced by the City of David, about “Jeremiah’s Well”: City of David Water Well (in Hebrew)

[5] N. Hasson, “Top archeologist decries Jerusalem dig as unscientific ‘tourist gimmick’” Haaretz (October 10, 2011)

[6]  N. Hasson, “Jerusalem planning NIS 4m light show to draw tourists to East Jerusalem” Haaretz (May 29, 2012)

[7] The website of the Jerusalem Development Authority, “Promenades and Green Areas in the Old City Basin” (in Hebrew)

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