Settler Group Loses Control Over Jerusalem Archaeological Park

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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The Davidson Center, in 2014.
The Davidson Center, in 2014.Credit: Amit Gireon
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Israel has retaken control of Davidson Archaeological Park, near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, from the right-wing settler group Elad, which runs the City of David tourist site in East Jerusalem.

In 2017, after a three-year legal battle, the state agreed to allow Elad also to run the Davidson Center. But Haaretz has learned that earlier this month, Israel reasserted its authority over the site through the government-owned Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter.

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Responsibility for the Davidson Center, south of the Western Wall Plaza and also known as the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, was transferred in 2014 from the government’s East Jerusalem Development Company to the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, another government-owned entity.

The latter passed on control to Elad. The state took the matter to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, demanding that Elad be prevented from managing the site, with former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein determining that the site’s major geopolitical, religious and cultural sensitivity should preclude transfer of its management to a private NGO.

The court reversed the decision, but Elad petitioned to the district court and won. The state then petitioned the High Court of Justice, which recommended that the state reach a compromise. In 2017, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said that the state would no longer oppose Elad’s operation of the site, and in 2018 it was given management of the site.

In response to a query by Eitay Mack, the attorney for the NGO Emek Shaveh, the director of the Jewish Quarter development company, Herzl Ben-Ari, wrote last week that the contract with Elad had ended at the beginning of July, and therefore responsibility for running the park and the Davidson Center is that of the government company he heads.

Elad, which owns and operates the nearby City of David archaeological site, told Haaretz that “the operations area” under its responsibility had been reduced by agreement. An individual familiar with the details told Haaretz that according to the agreement, Elad was given a contract to run the Davidson Center for three years with an option to extend for another three years, and now the state has decided not to extend the contract with Elad.

“Elad very much wanted and asked to extend the contract. But the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter reached the conclusion that they can operate the site better than the association, and therefore it took the option of exiting the agreement,” the individual said.

Emek Shaveh said: “We welcome the decision by the authorities, which realized the need to prevent a private right-wing association from managing important sites such as the Davidson Center, which is in one of the most sensitive locations in the entire area. ... [T]his is a double victory: recognition by the state of the legal problem of Elad operating the site, and the decision to return the site to the state. We hope the state will later take full control of other sites it has placed in the hands of the association. The City of David is doubtless the next site that should return to full state management.”

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