The Israeli government approved a record amount for archaeological excavations in Silwan

The Israeli government approved NIS 47 million in funding over two years for archaeological excavations in Silwan in East Jerusalem. The funding will go to the Elad Association projects. This is a record amount for an excavation on one site, comprising about 20% of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavation budget. The funding will be used to continue digging the tunnels beneath houses in Silwan, connecting various achaeological sites within the village, expanding the underground connection between Silwan and the Old City, and excavating on the slopes of Mount Zion.

The government’s decision, announced in honor of Jerusalem Day this year, is the continuation of the Shalem Plan announced last year. The goal of the plan is to create a tourist archeological space that combines walking above and below ground, focusing on the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, and ignoring the Palestinian environment.

For more than two decades archaeological excavations have been conducted in the village of Silwan, funded by the Elad Association and carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The Israeli Antiquities Law states that when an entrepreneur seeks to develop or dig in an antiquities site, he must pay the IAA the cost of the salvage excavation and archaeological supervision, in order to enable the construction. The IAA’s annual budget is approximately NIS 200 million, of which NIS 150 million comes from entrepreneurs. The decision to allocate NIS 24 million a year (NIS 47 million for two years) to the excavations in Silwan sets a new precedent in which a government authority will fund projects for a private entrepreneur, Elad.

This decision expresses the policy of the Israeli government, which uses archaeological excavations as a political means to take control of Silwan. Massive government funding for digging underground tunnels and developing archaeological and tourist sites proceeds alongside projects such as the construction of the cable car and the establishment of the Kedem Center in Silwan. These comprise additional steps in the political struggle in the historic basin of Jerusalem, which is conducted through tourism, narrative, and archaeology.