The Israel Antiquities Authority has completed an archaeological dig of a tunnel that will enable visitors to cross under the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, not far from the Temple Mount.
The tunnel, which was uncovered during excavations conducted over the past few months, was formerly used for drainage and dates back to the Second Temple. It links the City of David in Silwan with the Archaeological Park & Davidson Center, which is located near the Western Wall.
The Antiquities Authority stressed that the newly uncovered tunnel does not come near the Temple Mount and that it has no plans to dig in that direction.
The digging had been going on for seven years and was delayed for about a year by order of the High Court of Justice, after Silwan residents filed a petition claiming the dig was damaging their homes.
In September 2009, Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel rejected the petition and lifted the halt on the dig. Since then, work has been stepped up and in recent weeks the segment of the tunnel between the City of David and the Davidson Center was completed.
Even though no opening was made giving access to the Davidson area, there are plans to do so in the future.
"This [tunnel] was part of a drainage system that we had known about for a long time and it does not drain the Temple Mount by Haguy Street in the Old City. Therefore, even if the dig continues, it will not move in the direction of the Temple Mount," the deputy director of the Antiquities Authority, Uzi Dahari, said yesterday, adding that the dig has no political aim.
"The Antiquities Authority deals only with archaeology. We are not digging tunnels, but working only where we are allowed to work," he explained. "After the High Court realized that there was no risk involved, and that none of the residents are being harmed, it authorized the continuation of the work. This dig is very important from an archaeological standpoint."
"When we filed the petition, it was clear to us that the purpose of the tunnel is to link Silwan with the Western Wall," attorney Sami Arshid, who represented the residents in filing the petition at the High Court, said in response.
"But the court accepted the explanations of the Antiquities Authority - that it is not a dig, but the clearing out of an existing tunnel. Today we see that the Antiquities Authority's explanations were merely sand [thrown] in our eyes," he added.