The Israeli Ministry of the Interior approved on Friday a plan to demolish a large section of the historic Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, in East Jerusalem, to construct an archaeological center proposed by a nationalist right-wing ethno-religous organization which aims to expand Jewish settlement on Palestinian land in east Jerusalem.The people of Silwan have faced colonization efforts for the last dozen years – from approved Israeli government projects that involve demolitions of residents’ homes, to forced evictions from their ancestral homes by armed Israeli settlers who force their way in to the houses and push the Palestinian families into the street.
Numerous forced evictions have been documented by the Silwan Information Center (http://www.silwanic.net) but the Israeli police have refused to take any action against the settlers. Instead, they have, on multiple occasions, forcibly removed the tents of residents who camped out on the street in front of their homes after their homes had been taken over by Jewish settlers.
In the project approved on Friday, the right-wing Israeli settlement organization Elad will run the center, which is set to be constructed across from the ‘Dung Gate’ entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. Elad also runs the controversial ‘City of David’ Israeli national park nearby, which was also constructed over an alarming number of demolished Palestinian homes in Silwan. This is the only instance in which a private organization has been granted control of a national park in Israel.
Elad’s mission statement is to “strengthen the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and this in the means of tours, guidance, populating, and publishing material.”
According to the Silwan Information Center, “In practice, Elad feverishly worked to gain ownership of houses and lands in the village and particularly in Wadi Hilweh [in Silwan].”
In its approval of the new project, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior said that, “As a tourist attraction, this will contribute to the development of the city of Jerusalem.” When completed, the multi-level building will take up 16,000 square metres (172,160 square feet).
In response to previous archaeological projects by Elad, the Palestinian Authority’s archaeological and cultural heritage expert stated, “The sort of archaeology being carried out in Jerusalem, specifically in East Jerusalem and the Silwan area, is motivated by hidden agendas and has nothing to do with scientific objectives. It is done secretly, without taking into consideration international standards, and casts great doubts on the objectives of these excavations.”
Journalist Emily Hauser, of the Jewish Daily Forward, wrote last month, after the Israeli government handed over control of the southern part of the Western Wall to Elad, “Elad’s mission sits hand in glove with the larger government goal of tightening control over the entirety of 21st century Jerusalem, making the possibility of sharing the city with a future Palestinian state infeasible.
Jerusalem-based archaeological NGO Emek Shaveh has found that Elad’s decisions about where and how to excavate in the area are rooted in political considerations about establishing an Israeli presence and staying one step ahead of the diplomatic process, with the understanding that “’local and international public opinion will not create pressure against them.’”