Fearing Structural Collapse, Israel Halts Archaeological Dig in East Jerusalem

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Excavations in the stepped-stone street at Jerusalem's City of David archaeological site, March 27, 2020.
Excavations in the stepped-stone street at Jerusalem's City of David archaeological site, March 27, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Israel has recently halted work on an underground dig site in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem after the ground began to shift at the site, but residents have been warning for years that the excavations are causing damage to structures in the neighborhood.

Residents have been complaining about cracks forming, collapses occurring and building foundations being weakened due to the digging, but the Israel Antiquities Authority say there’s no proof of any link to it.

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In Silwan, which sits partly on the site of the historic City of David site, there has been an extensive and controversial underground excavation going on for more than 20 years. In recent years, the excavation has been focused on a stepped-stone street from the Second Temple period, which extends from the pool of Siloam up toward the Temple Mount. The digs have been conducted in cooperation with the right-wing, settler Elad Association, as part of an initiative to turn the street into a tourist attraction.

Recent years have seen a few instances of ground collapse and cracks forming in buildings owned by Palestinians in the neighborhood, but the IAA and Elad have denied any connection between the excavations and the damage.

The archaeological excavation site in Silwan, 2019. Credit: Ariel David

The excavation teams have erected huge underground steel frames to hold up the street and buildings above. A report released last month by the IAA on the excavation work states that one of the digging sites was shut down “for engineering work that includes stabilizing the area because the street level on which the infrastructure is installed was sinking.”

The archeological group Emek Shaveh recently conducted a survey of the neighborhood, finding cracks and structural problems in 38 apartments housing more than 200 people. In one instance in 2017, the municipality evacuated a family from its home for a few months until repairs on the structure could be completed. In another case a parking lot collapsed into one of the entrance pits to the Second Temple-era stepped street. “Archaeology must correspond with the present and the area in which it operates,” Emek Shaveh wrote. “This example stresses how important it is to conduct an ongoing dialogue with the residents.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority commented: “The excavation is being conducted with ongoing engineering oversight combined with technology that continuously monitors the ground. As part of this monitoring, a few months ago a minor shift was detected on the level of the ancient Herodian street (and not on the modern street, which is eight meters above). An examination found that the area does not run under residential homes or structures. As a result of the monitoring, a new engineering solution was immediately applied and has proven effective.”

Murals in Silwan, East Jerusalem, December 23, 2019Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

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