It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly given the ever-tumultuous nature of, well, everything in Jerusalem, that the ongoing digs in the City of David are uncovering not only a great deal of significant artifacts but also a great deal of significant controversy. Much of the archaeologically significant strata lies beneath Silwan, an Arab neighborhood across the Kidron Valley from the Old City, and awkwardly, the organization funding the dig is also heavily invested in the settlement of religious, politically rightist Jewish families in Silwan. The AP, being uncharacteristically even-handed, provides elucidation:
Lying on a densely populated slope outside the walled Old City, the area is known to Israelis as the City of David, named for the legendary monarch who ruled a Jewish kingdom from this spot 3,000 years ago. It is the kernel from which Jerusalem grew.
But Silwan is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and which Palestinians claim for the capital of a future state.
The organization funding the digs, the Elad Foundation, is associated with the religious settlement movement and is committed to preventing Israel from ever ceding the area in a peace deal. It says it has a yearly budget of close to $10 million, nearly all of it from donations, and is buying up Palestinian homes in Silwan to accommodate Jewish families. Around 50 have moved in so far, living in houses flying Israeli flags and guarded by armed security men paid for by the Israeli government.
At the same time, the City of David digs have expanded through the neighborhood, carried out by respected Israeli government archaeologists with funding from Elad.
Fakhri Abu Diab, a neighborhood activist, said the Elad Foundation has made it clear that he and his neighbors are in the way.
"They want the land without the people," he said.
None of the finds that the archaeologists highlight for the public are from the eras of Christian or Muslim rule. "They are looking only for Jewish ruins," said Abu Diab. "It's as if we're not here."
Of course, given the official stance of the Palestinian government regarding Jewish history in Jerusalem, which is that it's a Zionist fabrication, there may be some color commentary by the pot concerning the kettle going on here. Still, it's a thorny issue, and like many thorny issues, it can always be grossly exacerbated by the police.
The police arrested five Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan this week, all within a day of their having petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation under their homes.
According to the IAA, the dig has uncovered the remains of a Second Temple-era drainage channel. It is being financed by Elad, an organization that promotes the Judaization of East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians, who fear the dig will damage their houses, asked the court to halt it on Sunday, on the grounds that the IAA did not inform them that it planned to excavate on their property, as required by law. The court gave the IAA 14 days to respond. Last week, Palestinian demonstrators prevented the IAA from proceeding with the excavation. They tried to do the same on Sunday, but the police intervened to allow the dig to proceed.
Always an encouraging development when the police ignore the rulings of the highest court in the land.
But what to do? Do the Jewish people have the right to uncover their own cherished history? Yes. Does Elad have the right to legally buy homes in Arab neighborhoods and fill them with Jews? Yes. Does it also have the right to support important archaeology, even if it's colored by politics? Yes. But do the Palestinians have cause to be concerned anyway? Well...yes. And are the Jerusalem police overzealous? As always, yes.
As they say: oy vey.