Israel Hands Ancient Site to Ideologues

Jewish History Stressed at Expense of Other Groups

By Sarah Kreimer

Published September 26, 2011, issue of September 30, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Imagine stepping off the ferry to find that the Statue of Liberty monument is not run by the U.S. National Park Service, but that an evangelical Christian group has a special concession to operate this historic site. Also imagine that the film shown at the Ellis Island museum no longer emphasizes America’s multi-cultural history of immigration, but instead focuses almost exclusively on the contribution of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Sounds absurd?

Disputed History: An aeriel view of the entrance to the City of David in Jerusalem. Israel handed over the national park to a group that emphasizes only its Jewish history.
Getty Images
Disputed History: An aeriel view of the entrance to the City of David in Jerusalem. Israel handed over the national park to a group that emphasizes only its Jewish history.

Well, when you buy a ticket to the City of David National Park just outside the Old City walls in Jerusalem, you are stepping into such a situation. Perhaps you’ve been there yourself — viewing the impressive archaeological digs, wading through the waters of Israelite King Hezekaiah’s Tunnel. Unlike Ellis Island, however, the City of David Park is located in the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, hundreds of yards from the Temple Mount and Al Aqsa Mosque, in the midst of the populous Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.

Of all Jerusalem neighborhoods, Silwan is one of the most contested. This area has been the target for some of the most intense settler activity, backed by the Israeli government, and spearheaded by El-Ad, an organization dedicated to “redeeming land and returning Jewish awareness to the City of David.” This has led to daily clashes, arrests and tear gas, turning Silwan into a focus of violence in Jerusalem.

This area, which traces Jerusalem’s rich, multi-cultural history of settlement and conquest, from the ancient Canaanite city, through the Judean Kingdom, the Byzantines, the Abbasids (early Muslim period) as well as modern-day Jews and Arabs, was declared part of the Walls of Jerusalem National Park in 1970, and run by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality. Archaeological digs, fully supervised by Israel’s Antiquities Authority, were carried out in Silwan. But consistent with the philosophy of Jerusalem’s mythic mayor Teddy Kollek, who managed the city from 1967 to 1993, no attempts were made to use the park to change the neighborhood’s character.

This approach changed in the 1990s, when the government began transferring properties within the park to El-Ad, leading to the eviction of Palestinian residents from their homes. The authorities then turned over the “guardianship and maintenance” of the park itself — without a bidding process, with no public debate, and in violation of Israeli law.

Many leading archaeologists, including the Antiquities Authority, objected (and still object) to El-Ad’s management of the park, seeing it as an abrogation of legitimate public authority over sensitive historic sites. However, the lure of massive private investment, notably by American Jewish settlement patron Irving Moskowitz, was too great.

In 2001, government authorities made a commitment to the Israeli High Court of Justice to cancel El-Ad’s authorization to run the park and to return it to public management. However, in 2005, the Nature and Parks Authority again signed a contract with El-Ad to continue to manage the City of David Park.

Over the years, El-Ad has used its position, and tax-exempt funds raised mostly from the American Jewish community, to expand Jewish homes and historic sites within the park, and to initiate and sponsor massive archaeological digs under the homes of Silwan. The result is a powerful Jewish history site that ignores or downplays the parts of Jerusalem’s rich 3,000-year-old history that belong to other peoples and religions.

The Israeli High Court will soon hear the petition of Israeli non-profit organization Ir Amim and a group of prominent Israeli archaeologists who oppose this ideologically charged sub-contracting arrangement. Now, in a bid to neutralize this legal challenge, the government, lobbied hard by settlers, pushed a bill through a preliminary reading in the Knesset that, if adopted, would allow the Nature and Parks Authority to outsource the management of national parks throughout Israel to private organizations.

Just as American Jews would balk at Evangelists running the Statue of Liberty National Park and twisting American history, so too should Israelis and Jews around the world who care about Jerusalem speak up about an arrangement that is dangerous for Jerusalem’s future, divisive for Jews, and harmful to peace.

Sarah Kreimer is associate director of Ir Amim, an Israeli organization dedicated to building an equitable, stable and sustainable Jerusalem.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.