Israel, right-wing group to fully excavate biblical Siloam Pool in East Jerusalem

2,700-year-old water reservoir thought built by King Hezekiah to be opened to public; critics say move is part of plan to expand Jewish presence in Palestinian neighborhood

Young boys from Taiwan play in the water of the Siloam Pool after walking through Hezekiah's Tunnel during their visit to the City of David National Park, on July 28, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Young boys from Taiwan play in the water of the Siloam Pool after walking through Hezekiah's Tunnel during their visit to the City of David National Park, on July 28, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Pool of Siloam, a nearly 3,000-year-old water reservoir that likely served Jerusalem’s population during biblical times, will be fully excavated in the coming months, Israeli authorities said Tuesday.

The excavations will for the first time expose the entire pool, which archaeologists say was constructed during the reign of the Israelite King Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE.

The announcement — made Tuesday in a joint statement by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the City of David Foundation and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority — was met with left-wing claims that the project was part of a campaign to expand right-wing Jewish control over politically sensitive parts of East Jerusalem currently inhabited by Palestinians.

The excavated pool will be added to a controversial “Pilgrims Route” trail that begins at the footsteps of the Western Wall and ends at the southern edge of the City of David, an ancient site considered by archaeologists to be the original Jewish settlement of Jerusalem, but which today is part of the largely Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.

The site will be open for tourists to observe the ongoing excavations, the Israeli groups said in a joint statement.

Supplied via a water tunnel from the Gihon Spring, the Pool of Siloam is mentioned in the Bible’s Book of Kings II, 20:20: “Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made the Pool, and the conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of Chronicles of the kings of Judah?”

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman talks at an event for the City of David, in front of a rendering showing ancient Jerusalem. The Siloam Pool can be seen in the bottom right. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov, Pool)

According to Jewish sources, the pool was utilized by Jewish pilgrims as a ritual bath during the Second Temple period, allowing them to purify themselves before entering the holy city.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion hailed Tuesday’s announcement that the Pool of Siloam would be excavated and opened to the public, describing it as “a site of historic, national and international significance.”

“After many years of anticipation, we will soon merit being able to uncover this important site and make it accessible to the millions of visitors visiting Jerusalem each year,” he said in a statement.

The northern perimeter of the Pool of Siloam. (Koby Harati/City of David Archives)

Part of the area to be excavated is on a terraced olive grove owned by the Greek Patriarchate and rented to a Palestinian family since 1931, the left-wing Emek Shaveh organization said Tuesday.

According to the Haaretz daily, the land was sold to an offshore holding company as part of a controversial 2004 deal that saw far-right Jewish groups take over two hotels in the city’s nearby Old City. That deal was recently held up by Israel’s Supreme Court after over a decade of legal wrangling and claims that the deal was invalid.

The project is being carried out by the City of David Foundation, known in Hebrew as Elad, which works to increase the Jewish presence in and around Jerusalem’s Holy Basin, an archaeologically rich swath of land outside the Old City.

A large phalanx of police officers, including Border Police, accompanied officials from the foundation to the site Tuesday morning, according to Emek Shaveh and other dovish watchdog groups. It said three members of the Palestinian family that claim the land were detained.

“As usual, cooperation between settler groups, [state] authorities and the police continues to omit the Palestinians. The archaeology and the heritage is just an excuse,” Ir Amim, another left-wing group, said in a tweet.

The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest and wealthiest church in the Holy Land, commanding massive real estate holdings dating back hundreds of years. It faces regular accusations of selling or leasing properties to Israel in predominantly Palestinian areas.

Replica of the Siloam Inscription, the original of which was discovered in the City of David, near the Pool of Siloam. (Ze’ev Radovan/City of David Archives)

The steps of the Pool of Siloam were first excavated by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in the 1960s.

The site is mentioned in the Siloam Inscription, a 2,700-year-old ancient Hebrew text that provides historical support for the biblical account of the construction of a tunnel that brought water from the Pool of Siloam to the City of David, below the southern edge of the Temple Mount, during Hezekiah’s reign.

The artifact is currently stored in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in Turkey; however, reports earlier this year suggested that Turkish officials were considering returning the inscription to Jerusalem as a goodwill gesture amid warming ties between the two countries.

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