U.S. Envoys Joins Inauguration of Settler Project in East Jerusalem

Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt says Palestinians' criticism of move, seen as another step by the Trump administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, is 'ludicrous'

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends a conference in Jerusalem, June 27, 2019.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt took part in a ceremony inaugurating the “Path of the Pilgrims” in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, organized by the settler organization Elad.

The decision of the senior American diplomats to attend the Sunday event is seen as another move by the Trump administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, which previous U.S. administrations have avoided.

U.S. envoys can be seen breaking open the tunnel at the 1:04:20 minute mark

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In a tweet Sunday, Greenblatt said the Palestinian Authority "claims our attendance at this historic event supports 'Judaization' of Jerusalem/is an act of hostility vs. Palestinians. Ludicrous. We can’t 'Judaize' what history/archeology show. We can acknowledge it & you can stop pretending it isn’t true! Peace can only be built on truth."

The “Path of the Pilgrims” is an excavation of a large underground archeological site that has been going on for the last six years in collaboration between the Elad Association, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority.

The City of David archaeological site in Silwan, East Jerusalem, January 2019.
© Amnesty International

The excavation was conducted through a tunnel, upheld by large iron beams under the streets and homes in the Wadi Hiweh/City of David neighborhood in Silwan, not far from the Dung Gate of the Old City.

The dig runs along a route of streets from the time of the second temple that runs from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount.

The ceremony is the second time the site is inaugurated. The first time was two and a half years ago. Culture Minister Miri Regev took part in the first ceremony, and took advantage of the opportunity to attack the previous U.S. president, Barack Obama.

“Mr. President Barack Obama,” Regev said, “I am standing here, on the road my father’s fathers walked upon thousands of years ago. There is no other nation in the world with an attachment to their land like this. Not the Ukrainians, not the New Zealanders, not the English. There is no nation in the world that has a connection to their land like the Jewish people have to the land of Israel.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev in the 'Pilgrim's Path', East Jerusalem, February 2017.
GALI TIBBON/AFP

The excavation of the street, which has been called the terraced street or the Herodian street (there are doubts regarding dating the street to the time of King Herod), is the flagship project of the Elad Association. Its completion will allow visitors to the City of David National Park, which is managed by the organization, to walk through the underground passage from the Pool of Siloam and emerge near the Western Wall.

The underground digging in Silwan has been reviewed at length by the authorities from a scientific standpoint. About three months after the first inauguration, Haaretz revealed that two high level officials in the IAA, Dr. Jon Seligman, head of excavations and surveys, and Dr. Gideon Avni, who heads the organization’s archeological division, sharply criticized the excavations. In internal correspondence revealed by Haaretz, 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.”

Residents of Silwan have been complaining for years about damages to their homes caused by the excavation of the tunnel. Residents pointed to cracks in the walls of homes above the tunnel. In one rainstorm last winter, there was a collapse of several meters of a parking lot owned by a Palestinian resident into the pit at the entrance to the tunnel.