Culture Ministry earmarks NIS 60m for Jerusalem archaeology digs, preservation

Excavations in and around the City of David to be bolstered by two-year government grant

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

Archaeologists work near remains of the Acra citadel and tower in the City of David in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Archaeologists work near remains of the Acra citadel and tower in the City of David in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In honor of Jerusalem Day, a special project aimed at bolstering and expanding ongoing archaeological excavations in and surrounding Jerusalem’s City of David project will receive a government grant of NIS 60 million.

According to an Israel Hayom report (Hebrew), Culture Minister Miri Regev will announce the decision at a government meeting on Sunday.

The NIS 60 million ($17 million) budget will be given to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) over two years, as part of a larger NIS 500 million ($140 million) plan to expand existing excavations as well as create sustainable tourism infrastructure at the sites.

According to the Israel Hayom report, the Culture Ministry says it aims, with this grant, to “empower Jerusalem as an international center of religion, heritage, culture and tourism” through the excavation, research and development of ancient Jerusalem archaeology.

“For the first time in decades, the Israeli government has initiated excavations that will expose ancient Jerusalem’s antiquities and will express the history of the Jewish people 3,000 years ago,” said Regev.

“The approval of a plan to reveal Jerusalem on the day that marks the day of the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem is, in my opinion, very important for the Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem and the City of David, which has became the beating heart of the Jewish people and this land,” said Regev.

Minister of Culture Miri Regev speaks during a ceremony at the Knesset honoring the torch lighters of the 70th Independence Day state ceremony at Mount Herzl, April 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The IAA welcomed the planned budget influx, telling The Times of Israel that it was “pleased” the state was moving toward taking responsibility for uncovering and preserving Jerusalem’s past.

“The important plan is the initiative of the Israel Antiquities Authority together with organizations operating in Jerusalem. The culture minister’s decision to promote this program as a government decision is most welcome and important,” said IAA spokesperson Yoli Schwartz.

Most of the sites earmarked in the budget are in or under the auspices of the City of David (Ir David) National Park, located in East Jerusalem, on the south side of the Old City near the Dung Gate, abutting the Arab village Silwan. The archaeological site is officially part of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, but is administered by the NGO Elad, which promotes and uncovers Jewish historical ties to the city of Jerusalem, as well as Jewish settlement in the city’s Arab neighborhoods.

Tourists wait to enter the Siloam water tunnel in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. (AP Photo/Rachael Strecher)

Doron Spielman, vice president of the City of David Foundation, told The Times of Israel in a statement, “We strongly support the decision by Israel’s government making the uncovering of the archaeological history of Jerusalem, including within the City of David, a national priority, especially at this time when the world sees courageous moves by the United States and other countries to support Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Spielman said billions of people from around the world of all religions “feel a deep connection” to the City of David. “This decision will enable the City of David National Park to double the number of those seeking to connect with the history of Jerusalem with their own eyes, to over one million annually,” said Spielman.

“The excavations in the City of David National Park are carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, one of the most highly respected archeological bodies in the world. The decision led by the Prime Minister, includes funding provided by various government ministries,” said Spielman, including the Education Ministry.

Part of recently uncovered remains of a massive stone tower built to guard Gihon Spring – a vital water supply just downhill from the ancient city of Jerusalem (Weizmann Institute)

The specific sites mentioned in the Israel Hayom article are largely located outside the walls of the Old City, and are mostly found between the City of David and Mount Zion. According to the article, the plan to be presented to ministers on Sunday names the Gihon Spring Fortress, which, through the aid of carbon dating was recently re-dated to after c. 900 BCE — the second half of the Iron Age — and smack dab in the middle of the Israelite period.

Other locations mentioned include the stepped street, and a completed excavation of a currently closed section of the drainage channel from the time of the Second Temple which goes from the City of David, under the Robinson’s Arch area of the Davidson Archaeology Park, to the Western Wall Tunnels.

Neither the City of David nor the Culture Ministry responded to queries on whether the grant would also be used for the building of the government’s planned pluralistic prayer platform to be constructed in the Davidson Archaeology Park.

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