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Organizer admits City of David endangers Arab homes

Akiva Eldar | Ha’aretz

5 October 2009

A video tape made during a guided tour of the archaeological excavations at Silwan (the City of David) near Jerusalem’s Old City walls reveals how Elad, the association that runs the dig, works together with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Jerusalem municipality to dig under the homes of Arab residents.

In the tape, made a year ago, the founding head of Elad, David Be’eri, says: “At a certain point we came to court. The judge approached me and said, ‘you’re digging under their houses.’ I said ‘I’m digging under their houses? King David dug under their houses. I’m just cleaning.’ He said to me, ‘Clean as much as possible.’ Since then, we’re just cleaning; we’re not digging.”

Be’eri goes on to describe an excavation method in which “we built from the top down” and “everything’s standing in the air” [due to the removal of fill]. “Then [the engineer] says, you have to shut the whole thing [because of danger of collapse]. I tell him, ‘are you crazy?'”

In February a pit appeared on the steps connecting the upper part of the village to the lower sections. Three months later, the plaza, beneath which Elad is conducting its intensive excavations, began to collapse.

A tour participant told Haaretz that she also heard Be’eri say he usually leaves a narrow entrance to a dig, and invites inspectors to crawl in. He said most of them make do with a look from the outside.

As for construction of the visitors’ center, Be’eri was also recorded as saying: “You dig and you dig … and one day … we found a rounded corner. We said this is a pool … there’s an 18-meter-high mountain here, above it are Arab houses. And I want to get to the bottom of the mountain, to the pool, to find it. How can I get there? We started to dig carefully, and support ourselves with metal struts that hold up the mountain and the houses. We found ourselves with five kilometers of welded iron inside. It’s crazy. The cost of iron went up because of us.”

“We bought two rooms, this one and the one beneath … and I started to build the visitors’ center,” Be’eri also said. “What can be done with two rooms? Nothing. So … we broke the wall into the mountain … All this space was a mountain filled with earth … the Israel Antiquities Authority came and I told them, ‘we’re renovating…’ At night I would move the terrace. They [the Antiquities Authority] would come in the morning and say, “Hey, it didn’t look like this.”

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has authorized Elad to run the site, encompassing some of the most extensive excavations in Israel in recent years.

At the beginning of the 1990s, a Justice Ministry probe discovered that one of the buildings handed over to Elad, the Spring House, administered by the Custodian of Abandoned Properties, had been rented to Elad for NIS 23.73 per month. Elad also paid 3,000 Dinars to the Palestinian who lived there, to get him to leave.

Two weeks ago, the High Court of Justice rejected two petitions by Silwan residents against all the bodies involved in excavations under their homes. In her ruling, Justice Edna Arbel cited the public interest in revealing thousands of years of Jerusalem’s history. However, Arbel also said: “The importance of studying the past does not cancel out the interests of the present. It cannot preempt the right of the residents to live securely and cannot overcome the rule of law.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority did not respond to this report by press time. Elad responded that due to the lateness of the request for a response (in the early hours of Sunday afternoon) it was unable to respond.