Israel Authorizes Right-wing Settler Group to Run Western Wall Archaeology Site

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An archaeological site just outside the Old City walls by the City of David in East Jerusalem.
An archaeological site just outside the Old City walls by the City of David in East Jerusalem.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The right-wing Elad organization will be permitted to run the Davidson Center archaeological park adjacent to the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, according to a court settlement.

The arrangement is provided in an agreement between the state and Elad that was submitted about two weeks ago to the Supreme Court and that is to take effect in eight months.

The Davidson Center archaeological park, which is south of the Western Wall plaza, includes the egalitarian site for use for non-Orthodox prayer. Major archaeological excavations were carried out in the area about 40 years ago. Although the agreement formally provides that the Davidson Center will be run by the government-owned Jewish Quarter Reconstruction and Development Company, in practice, Elad is to run it. Elad, also known as the Ir David (or City of David) Foundation, will not have authority over the egalitarian prayer site.

In addition to running tourist and archaeological sites in the City of David, located south of the Old City walls, Elad has been active in settling Jews in the largely Arab Silwan neighborhood in the same general area. “The Ir David Foundation is committed to continuing King David’s legacy as well as revealing and connecting people to Ancient Jerusalem’s glorious past through four key initiatives: archaeological excavation, tourism development, educational programming and residential revitalization,” its website states.

About three years ago, responsibility for the Davidson Center was transferred from the government’s East Jerusalem Development firm to the Jewish Quarter Reconstruction and Development Company, which in turn gave responsibility for the site to Elad. The government objected to Elad running the center and sought an order from the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to prevent the group from operating the site. Yehuda Weinstein, who was attorney general at the time, said the site was one of major geopolitical, religious and cultural sensitivity and should not be transferred to the control of a private non-profit organization.

The court voided the agreement but Elad appealed the case to the Jerusalem District Court, where it prevailed. The state then appealed the issue to the Supreme Court, where the justices urged the parties to come to a settlement. In February, Attorney General Weinstein’s successor, Avichai Mendelblit, agreed that the state would drop its objections to the site being run by Elad.

A source close to the case said Elad’s interest in running the Davidson Center lies in part due to a tunnel running from the site to the City of David. The passageway is a narrow drainage tunnel from the Second Temple period (which ended in the year 70 C.E.), which visitors can follow from the City of David directly to the Davidson Center. The source said Elad may now seek to reverse the flow of visitors and direct people from the Western Wall to the City of David itself.

For its part, Elad issued a statement saying: “The update filed with the court speaks for itself.”

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