In Jerusalem, archaeology isn’t a science. It isn’t even a study of the past. This isn’t meant to be a slur against all of the archaeologists digging in the city. Many, perhaps most, are serious and dedicated professionals. But in many cases, their work is commissioned, paid for and licensed to serve narrow political and religious interests.
It’s all political, whether it’s archaeologists employed by the Waqf Muslim religious trust, devoted to obliterating any relic of the Jewish temple under the Al Aqsa compound, boosting the claims of Palestinian nationalism; or whether it’s archaeologists working in digs sponsored by the Elad settlers organization, licensed by the Israeli government, with the sole purpose of uncovering Jerusalem’s ancient Jewish past in the interests of their contemporary Jewish-nationalist agenda.
And it is not just the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anymore. On Sunday, U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman annexed the battles over Jerusalem’s past and made them part of the identity politics-driven culture war raging in the United States.
“This place is as much a heritage of the U.S. as it is a heritage of Israel,” said Friedman after gleefully hammering through a ceremonial wall that had been placed at one end of “Pilgrimage Road,” situated under the Silwan neighborhood of Arab East Jerusalem.
Some of Israel’s most senior archaeologists have criticized the methodological basis for granting Elad the permit to dig the site. For instance, Dr. Jon Seligman from the Israel Antiquities Authority wrote in 2015 that the project was being carried out “against accepted archaeological practices.” But nationalist politics trumps accepted practices.
What is without question is that Sunday’s “inauguration” was nothing more than a vulgar exercise in political posturing. (There was already one inauguration ceremony two and a half years ago, and there will certainly be at least one more since the project is far from completion.)
Pilgrimage Road runs under the homes of Palestinian residents and has caused damage to their building foundations. But who cares about that? Friedman told the Jerusalem Post recently that the excavated route is “yet another example — and a great one — of the recognition of the Judeo-Christian values upon which both nations were founded.” In other words, there is no room there for a people that comprises nearly 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population — today, and not in some mystical past.
Along with Sara Netanyahu and a clutch of right-wing Israeli politicians, the guests of honor at the faux inauguration were Friedman, Sheldon and Miri Adelson, and President Donald Trump’s “special MidEast representative” Jason Greenblatt. Two Trump lawyers from New York and two casino moguls from Las Vegas smashing walls and coexistence in Jerusalem.
This is the same gang that brought us last year’s empty gesture of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which has done absolutely nothing for the city except create more alienation. In typical Trump style, the “embassy move” was nothing more than putting up a new sign on the existing U.S. Consulate building; it didn’t even create new jobs in the city because, at Friedman’s urging, the Trump administration shuttered its second consulate in East Jerusalem.
The transient power of the flunkies in the Trump and Netanyahu governments and the Adelsons’ billions won’t change the facts of life in Jerusalem. They have nothing to do with our city, and are nothing more than the most minor of so many nonentities who passed through. They won’t even remain as footnotes in its history.
Their gleeful grins as they wielded hammers can’t disguise their true supremacist agendas. And although they can break down a wall, they cannot obscure Jerusalem’s realities. These people have no love for the real Jerusalem — an actual city where nearly a million Jews, Muslims and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians, have to find a way to continue living together.
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