Israel’s state comptroller has sharply criticized three government agencies for outsourcing the management of major archaeological excavations and sites in Jerusalem to Elad, a private organization that settles Jews in the militarily occupied eastern part of the city in violation of international law.
The report says the Israel Antiquities Authority has not supervised Elad’s archaeological work, nor has the Israel Nature and Parks Authority supervised Elad’s management of the so-called City of David, a settlement containing an archaeological museum catering to tourists.
The City of David settlement is located in the middle of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem, and Elad asserts it is the ancient biblical City of King David mentioned in the second book of Samuel.
Emek Shaveh, an alternative archaeology group that opposes Israel’s use of archaeology as a political tool to assert claims to East Jerusalem, says the report confirms many of the issues the group has been protesting for years.
Archaeology for settlement
Elad has been spearheading archaeological excavations in Jerusalem since the mid-1990s in order to support its claim that Jews have a right to possess and control certain locations.
In its fervent effort to uncover King David’s alleged gardens, Elad has destroyed artifacts of other peoples and cultures.
According to the comptroller’s report, Elad was awarded the significant archaeological sites – including Jerusalem’s supposedly most important excavation – without a tender and at a very low price.
The recent report carries particular significance in light of Israel’s fight against UNESCO’s resolutions condemning Israel’s actions that degrade East Jerusalem’s cultural heritage.
Last month, the UN’s scientific and cultural body passed a resolution criticizing Israel’s violent incursions into and restrictions on the al-Aqsa mosque and the Haram al-Sharif, and expressing concern over the excavations that threaten the foundation of the compound.
Israel reacted with rage, falsely claiming the resolution denied Jewish reverence for the Haram al-Sharif, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount.
Israeli lawmaker Ayoub Kara caused a furor when he suggested that Italy’s recent earthquakes were divine retribution for voting in favor of the resolution. “I’m sure that the earthquake happened due to the UNESCO decision,” Kara said. The earthquakes have caused major damage to cultural sites in Italy.
Israel also protested a Jordanian draft resolution in UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to keep Jerusalem’s Old City and its walls on UNESCO’s list of endangered sites.
Israel claims that the Israel Antiquities Authority supervises all of its archaeological projects in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, making such a listing unnecessary.
But according to the state comptroller’s report, Israeli government agencies have indeed “forfeited the state’s authority” over some of the most sensitive sites in Jerusalem.
The comptroller discovered that the Israel Antiquities Authority authorized Elad to conduct an archaeological dig near the City of David settlement in Silwan, even though another Israeli government agency, the Nature and Parks Authority, supposedly had control over the site.
And the Company for Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, another state settlement agency, handed Elad full control over the excavation of an ancient underground water system in the City of David settlement.
Elad’s only response to the report is that under its management visits to their sites have “skyrocketed,” according to the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz.
Although it operates sites in occupied territory, under Israeli law Elad pays rent to the Israeli government. The report reveals, however, that the rent is exceptionally low compared to Elad’s high revenue.
In other words, the Israeli government is allowing the settler organization to extract large profits from its seizure of Palestinian land.
Elad maintains six sites and excavations throughout East Jerusalem.
Emek Shaveh says the comptroller’s report should prompt a serious investigation into the Israeli government agencies that have relinquished control over these spaces to Elad.
It is unlikely, however, that the report will lead to any accountability with respect to the rights of Palestinians whose city is being violently colonized by government-backed settlers.