David Be’eri, a controversial right-wing activist who has led the movement to renovate the City of David and increase the Jewish presence in largely Arab East Jerusalem is one of two recipients of the prestigious Israel Prize for lifetime achievement, Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Thursday.
In a statement, Bennett praised Be’eri as “one of the greatest builders of Jerusalem during the modern era,” tying his awarding of the prize to the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War
“For many years, we fought, prayed and dreamed to return to the city where [King] David resided, and to rebuild her.” Bennett said.”David turned that dream into action.”
Be’eri founded the Ir David (City of David) Foundation, known in Hebrew as Elad, whose central project is the renovated City of David archaeological park, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
Elad also, controversially, purchases homes in the surrounding Arab village of Silwan — sometimes via Muslim middle men — and rents them to Jews, a move that has led to charges that he is fueling tensions in the city.
The other recipient is the founder of the Lone Soldiers organization, Zvi Levy. The organization supports some 3,500 young people annually who leave their families to volunteer for Israeli army service, and more than 1,500 Israeli soldiers who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or are estranged from their parents.
Be’eri sparked an outcry in 2010 when he was filmed running over a Palestinian minor who was throwing stones at his car while driving through Silwan.
“Thanks to David Be’eri, millions of soldiers, students and pupils are exposed to the history of Jerusalem like never before,” the citation said.
The prize committee noted Be’eri’s contribution to renewing the City of David, an area south of the Old City which archaeologists believe to have been the original location of the holy city. Though officially a national park, the City of David’s archaeological site is maintained by Elad.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) tweeted congratulations to the two recipients, calling Be’eri the “revealer of the secrets of Jerusalem.”
But lawmaker Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) hit out at the Be’eri nomination.
“If there’s one body that’s responsible for sticking a wedge into …East Jerusalem and of sacrificing our joint future together, and the sacrifice of every opportunity for a diplomatic agreement, it’s Elad,” she said.
“With its own hands, it is leading the eviction of Palestinians from their homes, the settlement and Judaization of Silwan, and all of it thanks to donations of hundreds of millions from companies registered in tax havens,” she said.
The other prize winner was less controversial.
Levy, who served in the paratroopers unit, looks after lone soldiers from more than 40 countries, with most coming from the former Soviet Union, the US, Europe, Ethiopia and South America.
Hundreds of lone soldiers are housed in a network of 137 kibbutzim.
Levy organizes activities for the soldiers, works to provide for their material needs, and serves as an intermediary between the soldiers and the army.
Bennett described him as “one of the most beautiful sons of our country, a Zionist role model, and above all, the father of thousands of lone soldiers who found in him, an address, a father, a mother, a listening ear, a friend and a brother.”
“Tzvika’s lifetime achievement reflects our values as a society, having contributed greatly to the unity of society and the security of Israel.”
The Prize Committee lauded Levy for his “decisive contribution” to the country.
“For decades, he has worked for hundreds and thousands of disadvantaged soldiers and cared with commendable devotion for bereaved families.”
The prize committee, chaired by Academy of the Hebrew Language chairman Moshe Bar-Asher, included Zvi Hauser, a former cabinet secretary, former Education Ministry director general Dalit Stauber, Eyal Gabbai, a former director general of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, and Pnina Trommer, a linguist at Tel Aviv University.