Israeli Archaeological Dig Forces 25 East Jerusalem Residents to Evacuate Homes

City declares the building unsafe and moves the residents to a hotel for one day; 'Our home was ruined, it is impossible to live there any longer'

A resident of the unsafe house in Silwan last week.
Haaretz

Twenty-five residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan were evacuated from their homes last week, from a building they say was undermined by archaeological excavations being conducted underneath it.

The municipality declared the building unsafe and temporarily moved the residents to a hotel in the city, though just the next day, they were informed they would have to leave the hotel.

"Our home was ruined, it is impossible to live there any longer, we have nowhere to live," said Suleiman Oweida, one of the evacuated residents.

The building includes three apartments, and residents say it is located above the underground excavations of the Herodian stepped street being conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Elad nonprofit organization.

Most of those living in the building are children, members of the extended Oweida family. The residents said that although they noticed cracks opening in their walls three years ago and engineers came a number of times to examine the cracks, they remained in their homes. Recently, the cracks have expanded in a number of rooms and the family has complained of the floor and walls shaking. "All the time we hear noises under the house day and night but yesterday we felt as if something was moving," said Oweida last week.

They called the police, fearing the house was going to collapse, and the police called in the city's engineering department. A safety engineer issued an order declaring the building unsafe and ordered it evacuated.  

The Herodian street that's being excavated is from the Second Temple period and leads from the Siloam (Shiloach) Pool at the bottom of the City of David up to the Western Wall. A month ago, Haaretz reported that two senior IAI archaeologists criticized the excavations in internal correspondence. They wrote that the work being done in the tunnels, contrary to accepted practice, was “bad archaeology” and added that “the authority could not be proud of this excavation.”

The excavation is being conducted in an underground tunnel supported by wood and steel beams. In the past, Palestinians from the neighborhood have claimed the excavations have caused damage to their homes, but the high Court of Justice denied a petition from the residents trying to prove a connection between the dig and damage to the buildings.

The Jerusalem municipality said that as a result of cracks in the building and a fear for the safety of the residents, a building safety engineer was called in and he ordered the residents evacuated for their own safety, in coordination with the city's social services authorities.  The cause of the cracks in the building is being investigated, said the city.

The Antiquities Authority said it had no information linking the house to the excavations, and the building is located about 100 meters from the excavations.