Antiquities and Archaeology Controversies Israel

Israel’s Supreme Court upholds privatisation of archaeological park

The Jewish organisation running Jerusalem’s City of David site has been accused of marginalising Muslim history

The City of David archaeological park (Photo: Emek Shaveh)

Israel’s Supreme Court rejected on 26 March a petition questioning the legality of management at the City of David archaeological park. The site, a few meters outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, has been run by Elad under contract with the National Parks Authority. Elad is the first private organisation in Israel to fund and oversee an antiquities site in an Arab neighbourhood, while also settling Jewish residents there.

The petition, by the group Ir Amim, says that operations of national parks should not be in private hands, especially of an organisation with political mandates that are at odds with local residents. Since the ruling, which ends a three-year legal skirmish, Ir Amim has already begun working on a new petition to the court, requesting that the National Parks Authority publish the bids for the contract to run the site.

Elad, meanwhile, is now expected to renew its contract, but with changes specified by the court: all major management decisions must be approved by the National Parks Authority, although Elad will continue to run day-to-day operations.

Located in the Silwan neighbourhood, the City of David park contains archaeological ruins from more than a dozen eras, dating back to the Canaanite period. By the early 20th century, the local inhabitants were primarily Muslim, living peacefully with around 100 Yemenite Jewish families. Today, more than 35,000 lower-income Arab residents live around the archaeological park. Elad has invested millions of dollars to fund Israel Antiquities Authority digs and run tours and exhibitions that focus on Judean and Israelite periods of settlement.

A number of Israeli rights organisations, including Rabbis for Human Rights, Peace Now, Ir Amim and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, have protested against Elad. Around 150 Israeli and international archaeologists also signed a petition sponsored by the Emek Shaveh archaeological organisation against privatisation at national parks and heritage sites, in reaction to Elad’s involvement in Silwan (see related story above). Elad responded at the time that the petitions against it were an attempt to undermine Jewish historical connection to the site.

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