Digging up Al-Quds Troubles

Feverish excavations in Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) by right-wing Jewish groups are willful jumbling of science and faith which seek to push Palestinians out of the holy city to expand Jewish settlements.

"These people are mixing faith with science," Professor Israel Finklestein, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University, told the Time in its February edition.

A right-wing Jewish settler organization called Elad, also known as the Ir David Foundation, has exerted control over most of the excavations in Al-Quds in the past four years.

The centerpiece of its digging works is Silwan, an Arab city in Al-Quds listed in Israeli guidebooks as the City of David.

They established there an archaeological site and a Jewish theme park drawing more than 400,000 tourists a year, mostly Israeli army conscripts and school kids.

Critics say the organization is ignoring the holy city’s multi-cultural history.

"They’re only focusing on one tradition — the Jewish one," says Yoni Mizrahi, an independent archaeologist formerly with the International Atomic Agency.

Israeli experts refute Elad’s archaeological claims as dubious work that ignores key archaeological practices.

"You’re supposed to dig for six weeks and then report on what you find," says Raphael Greenberg, lecturer at Tel Aviv University.

"In the City of David, they’ve been digging nonstop for two years without a satisfactory report."

Finklestein, the archaeologist, notes that while there may be ruins on the Elad site dating back to the 9th century B.C., "there’s not a single piece of evidence about David’s palace."

"You’d think from Elad’s guides that they’d excavated a sign saying WELCOME TO DAVID’S PALACE," agrees Mizrahi.

"Their attitude seems to be that if you believe in the Bible, you don’t need proof."

Dispossession

Experts believe the main goal of the settler group is not scientific excavation, but rather pushing Palestinians out of the holy city and expanding Jewish settlements.

"[Elad is] misusing archaeology as a tool of dispossession," Eric Meyers, who teaches Jewish studies and archaeology at Duke University, to the Time.

Officials told the American magazine that the goal of Elad is to turn Al-Quds land "into Jewish hands."

Greenberg, the Tel Aviv lecturer, says Elad uses archaeology as a "crowbar" to "throw out the Palestinians living in Silwan and turn it into a Jewish place."

In Silwan, the Israeli government turned over its property to Jewish settlers and Elad bought up Arab homes through intermediaries.

Today, more than 500 Jewish settlers, along with Uzi-toting security guards, live among Silwan’s 14,000 Arabs.

But with official backing, Elad has ambitions beyond Silwan, warns Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer from Ir-Amim, a civil rights organization.

Since mid-2008, he added, the Israeli government has accelerated a policy of "aggressively and covertly expanding and consolidating control over Silwan and the historic basin surrounding the Old City."

Israel occupied the holy city in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community or UN resolutions.

Since then, Israel has adopted a series of oppressive measures to force the Palestinians out of the city, home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam’s third holiest shrine, including systematic homes demolitions.

Israeli occupation authorities issued earlier this year alone demolition orders for more than 88 houses in the city.

A recent UN report has warned that thousands of Palestinian houses in Al-Quds are facing the risk of mass demolitions by Israel.

Seidemann warns that if the settler groups’ provocations continued, Al-Quds would turn into a tinderbox of religious unrest.

"It risks transforming a manageable, soluble political conflict into an intractable religious war."

(IslamOnline.net and Newspapers)

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