Update: Jerusalem Day 2023

Update: On Jerusalem Day, government announces a budget of millions for settler-led projects in Jerusalem’s Old City basin and extra funding for projects in the Western Wall plaza area

Sunday’s (21.5.23) government meeting inside the Western Wall Tunnels to mark Jerusalem Day included decisions to allocate funds for two major heritage plans in the Old City and its environs.

The first allocation consists of 41 million NIS over 2023-2024 for phase three of the Shalem Plan to “reveal ancient Jerusalem”. The plan, first revealed in 2017, has served for the past six years as the government framework for funding many of the Elad (Ir David) Foundation’s excavations and touristic development programs in the City of David and at other sites in Jerusalem’s Historic Basin. The latest allocation will bring the Shalem Plan’s total budget to 104 million NIS. It does not include budgets for specific large-scale projects such as the suspension bridge or the cable car.

The full budget for the current phase of the Shalem Plan will be funneled through the Ministry of Heritage which is also allocating the majority of the funding but other ministries such as the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and the Ministry of Interior are also contributing.

The second major allocation is extra funding for the 5-year plan approved by the previous government for 2022-2026 to develop the Western Wall Plaza and facilities surrounding it. This plan was originally budgeted at 109 million NIS, and the last decision will boost the current budget by 42.75 million NIS. The extra money is earmarked for the same categories: investing in

infrastructure, archaeological excavations, content development and advancing tourism. This addition will bring the total investment in the Western Wall Plaza by the Israeli government between 2016-2026 to 294 million NIS .

The additional allocation will be contributed by multiple ministries, funneled through the Prime Minister’s Office and managed by the The Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

Shalem Plan

Shalem Plan phase III is the latest installment of the Shalem Plan to expose ancient Jerusalem which was first announced on Jerusalem Day in 2017. When it was first presented it was defined as a plan to enhance Jerusalem’s status as an “international city of faith, heritage, culture and tourism”. The following year, further allocations for Stage I of the Shalem Plan  enabled some of the most ethically and professionaly problematic Antiquities Authority projects which included the excavation of the first century Roman street (dubbed the “Pilgrim’s Road”) under the homes of residents of the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood in Silwan. Beyond unearthing the ancient street, the objective of the excavation is to link the Pool of Siloam located at the southernmost tip of the City of David archaeological park with the Western Wall in a tunnel running beneath the entire Palestinian neighborhood.

Last year on Jerusalem day, the government announced a decision to finance phase II of the Shalem Plan to the sum of 16 million NIS. Phase II funded ventures linking Elad-run sites from the City of David to the Armon Hanatziv area where an 800 meter zipline is slated to be opened to the public soon, and in the Hinnom Valley where the Elad Foundation is running a biblically themed farm on land claimed by families in Silwan and Abu Tor. It also

budgeted for excavations and development along the “Second Temple route” which includes a dig near Beit Schatz on the Armon Hanatziv promenade, excavations at the Davidson Center inside the Old City walls, foundation work for the Kedem Compound and an entrance to the Ophel Tunnel.

Like previous phases, this phase of the plan continues to budget the central excavation projects and touristic development of multiple sites but it also includes a significant budget for educational programs targeting youth from Israel and abroad. Thirty-three million NIS are earmarked for Elad’s archaeological excavations and development activities with the Israel Antiquities Authority, whereas 6 million NIS will finance educational and cultural programs for youth and the wider public from Israel and abroad. Along with the cable car approved last year by the High Court, these developments are transforming the landscape of Jerusalem and reshaping the historic narrative marketed to the public.

More specifically, Shalem III will fund the completion of the first century Roman street (“Pilgrim’s Road”), the excavation of the area near the Pool of Siloam which Elad and the IAA had announced is the site of a section of the Pool of Siloam although nothing was found in the recent excavation. The plan will also fund content development for the Kedem and Beit Schatz visitors’ compounds, educational programs for youth from Israel and abroad and for soldiers which will include participating in excavations  and taking part in activities aimed at “rehabilitating  the area”. According to the plan, the Israel Antiquities Authority will “raise public awareness  and educate  about Jewish heritage as embodied in the artifacts from the First and Second Temple periods alongside presenting the multilayered heritage of ancient Jerusalem.”

Western Wall

The Western Wall Plaza that abuts the Western Wall (part of the supporting

structure of the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif platform) is considered the holiest site for Jews.  The plaza itself was initially created after the 1967 war over the ruins of the forcibly evacuated Mughrabi Neighborhood. The site is managed by The Western Wall Heritage Foundation (an NGO which is mostly funded by government). In the past decade the site has seen growing tensions between different jewish communities: the Orthodox who have control over the Western Wall and non-Orthodox Jewish communities who are campaigning for freedom of worship at the site. These tensions have expanded beyond the plaza itself and are constantly debated within Israeli society and the Jewish diaspora.

Since 2006 (gov decision 4569), the development of the Western Wall area has been funded by four consecutive five-year plans (2006-2010, 2011-2015, 2016-2021 and 2022-2026). The latest plan was declared during last year’s Jerusalem Day government meeting (gov decision 994) and stipulated the development of the plaza (services and infrastructure), funding archaeological excavations in the Western Wall Tunnels and under the plaza itself, touristic programs and developing educational programs for school children, soldiers and students.

This plan followed a previous five year plan (2016-2021) with an overall budget of 145 million NIS. Together they represent a sharp increase in investment by the Israeli government in the area of the Western Wall.

Development of the Western Wall is designed to cement Israeli presence in the area, including in areas within and beneath the Muslim Quarter. While  archaeological excavations and preservation had concentrated on the Western Wall tunnels, recently there has been a growing interest in archaeological development in the area of the Western Wall Plaza area. Beit HaLiba houses a large archaeological display in the basement.  In 2022 the IAA  began a new excavation under the plaza itself.

Emek Shaveh’s response:  On Jerusalem Day the government has allocated millions of shekels for two Judeo-centric projects: The Western Wall area where excavations and development are creating another level beneath the Western Wall Plaza and the Shalem Project which essentially funds settler- led ventures throughout Jerusalem’s historic city.

Once again we see that when it comes to the Elad Foundation’s plans to erase Jerusalem’s multicultural identity, the government is willing to invest millions. For years we have been warning against the government’s willingness to outsource the management of heritage sites to an extremist settlers’ organization. Now we are seeing the results. As the settlers take over larger portions of the historic city changing its skyline and story, the city is losing its timeless character as a city of three faiths and two peoples.