collapsed tunnel - Emil Salman - 28122011
Silwan residents walking by the collapsed tunnel. Photo by Emil Salman
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A channel dug for archaeological excavations in Silwan partially collapsed on Monday near the village's mosque. Residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood place the responsibility for the collapse on the Elad nonprofit organization and accuse Elad of endangering the mosque and nearby homes.

Elad manages the City of David National Park, which is in Silwan, and funds many of the archaeological excavations carried out in the area by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

There have been a number of collapses in the past in the neighborhood, and residents claim the reason is digs that are conducted carelessly. They also point out cracks in their homes they claim are a result of the excavations. "How is it that in the houses above the tunnels there are cracks?" asked Jawad Siam, the head of the information center in Silwan.

Elad says infrastructure problems and illegal construction are the cause of the cracks and some of the collapses.

One of the excavations that has been going on for a few years has exposed a street from the Herodian period that leads from the Siloam Pool all the way to the area near the Temple Mount, as well as a drainage channel underneath the road. A metal and wood structure supports the sides of the newly excavated road. Recently the excavation of the tunnel was completed, and now reaches the Western Wall. But the heavy rains in Jerusalem at the beginning of the week caused one of the walls of the lower section of the tunnel to collapse, not far from the Siloam Pool and the Ein Silwan mosque.

The coordinator of Peace Now's Settlement Watch team, Hagit Ofran, has demanded that the Jerusalem municipality halt the work: "The collapse of the tunnel is life-threatening. The city must order a halt to all underground excavations in Silwan until a broad and independent engineering evaluation is made of all the tunnels," said Ofran.

A structure of Elad's in the Hinom Valley, between Silwan and the Abu Tor neighborhood, was set on fire on Tuesday. A number of young people affiliated with Elad live in the structure. The building was damaged but no one was hurt.

Elad recently filed a request with the city asking to turn the building into a restaurant for tourists.

The Jerusalem local planning and building committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss two plans submitted by Elad for construction in the area. The first plan is for a large structure over the excavation site, known as the Givati Parking Lot, near the entrance to the City of David, not far from the Dung Gate and Western Wall. The area of the former parking lot was excavated in recent years. Elad's plan is to build a parking lot above the site, with room for 250 cars, in order to help solve the severe lack of parking for those coming to the Western Wall and the City of David. A large building will be erected on top of the parking lot and will be used for tourism. It will hold classrooms, a conference hall, souvenir stores, exhibition space and offices.

The second plan includes developing the "House of the Spring" at the bottom of Silwan to be used by visitors to the City of David.

Silwan residents and left-wing organizations in Jerusalem intend of object strongly to both plans. "The construction plan is not from village residents, but the settlers," said Siam. "They do not examine what our needs are. We have a shortage of play fields for children, a clubhouse. None of this interests them, only King David and we are not willing to pay with our lives for the projects of a nonprofit with an objective of settlement," he added.

"This is a national park and nature reserve. In contradiction to all principles, they want to designate the place for buildings that will not serve the residents but instead are a further spreading out that will bring about conflict and make the present situation worse," said Jerusalem deputy mayor Pepe Alalo of Meretz.