City of David
Entrance to the City of David compound. Photo by Emil Salman

For the past 15 years the City of David National Park, one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in Israel, has been run by the Elad Association, which is identified with the right wing. Elad's guides at the park have fed thousands of visitors, including students and soldiers, with messages and information corresponding with the nationalistic-religious agenda of the association's leaders, who make no secret of their wish to Judaize the area. The archaeological work that Elad sponsors transformed the sensitive site into a center of conflict, often violent, with the Palestinian residents of Silwan. The international community has repeatedly warned against violating the uneasy balance in the area.

Tuesday's important ruling by the Jerusalem District Court, which heard the petition by Ir Amim - an organization working for "an equitable and stable Jerusalem with an agreed political future" - to annul the agreement between the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and Elad, offers an opportunity to fundamentally redress past mistakes. The INPA should not only fulfill the court's orders to issue tenders for some of the activities or declare such tenders unnecessary. The High Court of Justice indeed ruled, several months ago, that the agreement between the INPA and Elad was not illegal and it would suffice to limit Elad's authority to operating the site, rather than managing it, but the conflict surrounding the City of David is not only legal.

The transformation of the City of David into an ideological center of a specific political organization, thus allowing it to recruit dubious funds for its activity, is a distortion that cannot be ignored. National parks in general, and especially a national park with unique historical significance such as the City of David, are treasures belonging to all the public, Jewish and non-Jewish. The government should carry full responsibility for the site's operation and security, promising full transparency and professional historical instruction. It should hand the management of the site to the INPA, which is committed to "carrying out the laws and policies ensuring the preserving of nature, scenery, heritage and state lands."

A government that wastes no opportunity to underline the importance of national heritage sites cannot allow the political privatization of such an important chapter in the heritage of the Land of Israel.