Guiding Principles for a Jerusalem Antiquities Master Plan – Proposed Policy Paper

Why is There a Need for an Antiquities Master Plan?

Over the past decade and a half, Israel has been creating a reality in Jerusalem’s Historic Basin that is designed to preempt any political solution that doesn’t leave Jerusalem under full Israeli sovereignty. To this end, massive resources have been invested in what is defined as “archaeological and touristic development”, which includes excavations above and under ground, conservation and the tendentious presentation of antiquities to the public. These large-scale development efforts are led by private organizations and government bodies with abundant resources who are placing Jerusalem’s antiquities at the forefront of the political struggle over the city. The result is a transformation of the physical, cultural and religious identity of the Old City and the village of Silwan into a historic city that highlights the periods associated with Jewish history while playing down or frequently effacing periods associated with other cultures and faiths. The increasingly stronger identification of Jerusalem with Jewish history serves to reinforce the notion of non-negotiable historical rights in the public mind and the conclusion that Israel should remain the only sovereign entity in the city.


One of the key structural problems facilitating this pace of development is the absence of a master plan for Jerusalem’s antiquities. This fact enables the various actors in the Historic Basin to implement projects in a piecemeal fashion. We believe that urgent action is needed in order to preserve Jerusalem’s multilayered past, its multicultural social fabric in the present, and the possibility that a future political solution will reflect Jerusalem’s multicultural character. To that end we are promoting a comprehensive master plan for Jerusalem’s antiquities. The document titled “Guiding Principles for a Jerusalem Antiquities Master Plan” discussed below formulates a set of professional principles that will serve as a guide for a comprehensive plan.



The Authors of the “Guiding Principles”


In 2015-2016, Emek Shaveh brought together an interdisciplinary committee of experts, among them archaeologists, conservationists, urban planners, historians, geographers, tourism researchers and architects. Some of the members are academics while others have had decades of experience working in their field of expertise. All members are well-known in their field[1]. They were brought together to shed light on ethical and civil issues and formulate professional standards for the management of the treasured heritage sites of the Historic Basin, in the areas of archaeological development, conservation, planning and building. These standards will ensure the preservation of Jerusalem’s unique symbolic resources, and are designed to protect Jerusalem’s history from one-sided, nationalistic, religious, corporate or economic exploitation.


[1] Among the participants (in alphabetical order): Dr. Nava Cohen, Prof. Rafi Greenberg, Prof. Ze’ev Herzog, Prof. Alona Nitzan-Shiftan, Prof. Elchanan Reiner, Dr. Noa Rubin, Prof. Rehav Rubin, Dr. Nili Schori, Dr. Leah Shamir, Giora Solar, and Dr. Yuval Yekutieli.


Boundaries/Scope of the Discussion

The committee’s recommendations refer to the Old City and its surrounding area, that is, the scope referred to as the Historic/Holy Basin, between Mt. of Olives in the East, Gehenna in the South, the Mamilla area in the West and the Tombs of the Kings in the North.

Download the short document of the Guiding Principles for Jerusalem Antiquities Master Plan

Download the document Guiding Principles for a Jerusalem Antiquities Master Plan – Proposed Policy Paper as PDF file pdf

Committee recommendations for management of excavations, conservation and development of sites and building on top of antiquities in the Historic Basin of Jerusalem

  1. Since 1968 intensive archaeological activity has been taking place in the Holy Basin, followed by conservation projects and site development projects. This trend has escalated even more over the last decade. The Antiquities Law, intended to protect antiquities from development activities, is used by developers in Jerusalem as a tool to advance one-sided, irreversible development lacking in public oversight and carried out without regard for the planning and building law.  We recommend that in each case where an archaeological excavation constitutes an initial phase of development for tourism or other purposes (infrastructure, public or private construction, and others), standards adopted by planning laws are to be applied: comprehensive approach to the excavation and development plan and the implementation of extensive impact studies which take into account the heritage and the built environment, public health and safety, and the social and economic implications. All these – prior to executing the excavation.
  1. Excavations, conservation and site development projects in the Historic Basin are to be part of a transparent master plan that will be subject to public discussion. They must take into account activity in other areas of the city. A broad and comprehensive view will prevent wasteful activity such as the establishment of a series of competing visitors’ centers without any real need. From a cultural perspective, a broad and comprehensive view will enable the empowerment of one narrative at one site and another narrative at another site, providing a balanced and adequate expression of the different cultural periods that shaped Jerusalem in the past, as well as the mosaic of communities existing today.
  1. Public inclusion processes regarding excavations in Historic Jerusalem are to be applied, and strict inspection procedures are to be in place, as a condition for continuing work year to year. Clandestine or classified excavations will not be permitted in this framework and all building and development projects will be published and subject to public inspection.
  1. For each excavation in the Historic Basin, except for clear cases of treatment of health and security hazards, an excavation license (and not an authorization, as is currently accepted), granted after consulting with independent professionals will be required.
  1. The Old City of Jerusalem is a world heritage site according to UNESCO and was even included in the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. The state of Israel ratified the UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and is thereby committed to observe its guidelines and instructions. One of the instructions is that the state is to notify UNESCO in advance, through the Foreign Ministry or the Israel UNESCO committee, regarding significant activities on the site that are culturally influential (modifications, exacerbation, improvements, construction, demolition, large excavations, conservation and development activities, etc.). Excavation initiatives, be it for scientific or development purposes, undoubtedly fall under “significant activity” that require reporting.
  1. Separation between the regulator (the entity that inspects the excavation and conservation) and the executor of the excavation and conservation in practice shall be aspired to. For this reason, execution of excavations and conservation projects by a government authority must be not the rule, but the exception.
  1. Dismantling ruins during an excavation shall be prohibited, and the act of dismantling shall be defined as an act of conservation, which entails the constraints applicable to the process of conservation.
  1. Each conservation act, of a site or an object, must be based on the reversibility principle (restoration of the original state) as much as possible.
  1. Conservation and development plans must be presented to the public and to all essential stakeholders in Jerusalem’s Historic Basin: residents, visitors, representatives of the different faiths and the various religious orders, and local and international professional organizations. The entire abovementioned public shall be part of the decision making process concerning excavations, conservation and building over antiquities within this area.
  1. Excavation and conservation acts must be undertaken carefully, modestly and in a restrained way, in order to leave options open for changes in the future, in keeping with the advancement of technology and knowledge.
  2. Each conservation act, such as preparation of spaces for public, business or tourism activity must preserve the authentic/original architectural and historical context, and refrain from significant changes to the structures and/or from creating artificial links between structures which were used for different purposes or dated to different periods. The conservation activity must be of service to the residents’ needs, especially those living in close proximity to the sites that have undergone conservation.
  1. Excavations and conservation activities are accompanied by activities which determine the visitors’ experience at the site. Conservation, signposting, demonstrational films, tours and educational activity at the site must meet professional standards and be free of tendentious slants. These activities must faithfully represent all remains that were excavated and are found at the site, and deal with the complex social and historical mosaic which characterizes Jerusalem.


Next Steps:


  1. Recognition by international bodies such as UNESCO of the need for a master plan for Jerusalem’s antiquities in the spirit of the above mentioned guidelines.
  2. Endorsement by the international community of the “Guiding Principles for a Jerusalem Antiquities Master Plan” as a key means to safeguard Jerusalem for a future political solution.
  3. Raise awareness amongst local decision makers and professionals regarding the political implications of their decisions and actions.
  4. Promoting the “Guiding Principles for a Jerusalem Antiquities Master Plan” amongst Israeli government bodies working in the Historic Basin and ultimately achieving official endorsement of the plan.