Press release: Israel Nature and Parks Authority is Cooperating with Elad Foundation in take-over of site holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims

About two months ago the Elad Foundation, in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, put forth a plan to establish a tourism center named ‘Ha-Gihon Spring’ in Silwan village (No. 4 on Map). This tourism center is set to be established in addition to the planned Kedem Compound (No. 2 on Map) at the entrance to Silwan village, located 80 meters from the spring.

This plan intends to appropriate the village spring, considered holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims, as an inseparable part of the area under the management of Elad, a private settler organization. According to Israeli law, a holy site must be open to the public; the construction of a tourism site will ensure the closure of the site. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) joined the plan initiated by Elad and is assisting in its take-over of the spring, and in excluding entire populations from it. An additional problem is the plan’s intention to build a visitor center and museum in an area that is not part of the national park, where INPA has no authority to operate (holy sites are excluded from national park areas).

Last week (20 March) Emek Shaveh turned to the Minister of Environmental Protection demanding that INPA be instructed to withdraw its support from the plan and even to prevent it. At the same time, Emek Shaveh submitted an objection today to the objections subcommittee of the Jerusalem District Committee. The objection focuses on the planning issues and on the damage to the antiquities that the tourism center is likely to cause.

The ‘Gihon Spring’ tourism center is planned to be built among residential homes in a strategic area of the village, on the main path between the Kidron Valley pedestrian path and the Mount of Olives in the east, and al-Bustan neighborhood in the west. Further down in the Kidron Valley, towards al-Bustan neighborhood, is an ongoing archaeological dig of Tel-Aviv University (No. 1 on Map). As the Map shows, the tourism center will deepen Elad Foundation’s hold on the Kidron Valley.

For centuries, the spring of Silwan served as a source of water for the village inhabitants, and later on as a leisure site for children and their parents. The holiness of the Spring, which is known by various names—Ha-Gihon Spring, Miriam’s Spring, ‘Ein Umm al-Daraj, and the Virgin Spring—was recognized in the British Mandate era and thus it was decided to exclude it from the national park premises. Since 1995, the longest ongoing archaeological excavation in Jerusalem continues, and the area was expropriated from the village for use by Israeli settlers and the ‘City of David’ tourism site.[1]

Throughout the centuries, Muslim and Jewish considered the spring to have healing properties, especially for eye diseases, and had bathed in it. The spring, whose waters flow into the Siloah pool, forms part of the legend whereby Jesus cured the blind, and is a holy site for Christianity. The spring is of primary importance in the preservation of ritual traditions of all the religions in the city of Jerusalem. Its appropriation by a single religious group comprises a violation of the status quo in the area and harms the freedom of religion in the place and in Jerusalem in general.

 map excavations 2013

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