A senior Palestinian official Monday condemned the participation of US envoys in the unveiling of an archaeological site in East Jerusalem and scoffed at the “fake” account of Jewish history attributed to the subterranean road.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and White House adviser Jason Greenblatt were among US officials attending the event organized by the City of David Foundation on Sunday night.
Hammering through a thin wall erected for the ceremony, they helped open what organizers say is an ancient road, now underground, that pilgrims took to reach the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago.
The tunnel, located next to Jerusalem’s Old City, passes underneath homes in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.
Palestinians and anti-settlement activists see it as another attempt by Israel to cement its control over East Jerusalem.
Saeb Erekat said he believed the tunnel was a project being used by Israeli right-wingers to further Israel’s claim on East Jerusalem and advance settlement growth there.
“It has nothing to do with religion, it is fake,” he told journalists at his office in Ramallah in the West Bank.
He cited reports by two Israeli NGOs questioning the archaeological methods used.
One of the organizations, Peace Now, also says cracks emerged in multiple houses in Silwan after the digging began.
Erekat said: “It’s a settlement project. It’s based on a lie that has nothing to do with history.
“This is a disgrace to any diplomat, to undermine the two-state solution, to undermine the fact that there will never be peace without East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine.”
Jordan, custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, said, “Israeli efforts to Judaize the Holy City… risk further inflaming tension.”
The attendance of Greenblatt and Friedman was a further break with decades of protocol in the city by US President Donald Trump’s administration, which in December 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians have been boycotting the White House since that decision and recently declined to attend the US-led economic peace conference in Bahrain.
The US officials described the archaeological project as historic and further testament to the ancient Jewish presence in Jerusalem.
Greenblatt also berated Palestinian officials’ criticism of the project, saying they should “stop pretending it isn’t true.”
Archaeologists have been excavating at the City of David National Park in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan for the past eight years. The area has several tiny Jewish enclaves.
Erekat on Sunday night tweeted that Friedman, who before becoming the ambassador was a contributor to settlement causes, was himself “an extremist Israeli settler.”
The PA’s foreign ministry released a statement earlier Sunday condemning the “imperialistic Judaization plans,” which it charged were aimed at changing the status quo in the city. It slammed the Trump’s administration for “fully supporting the imperialistic settlement enterprise led by the far-right in the occupation state” through the officials’ participation.
The Pilgrimage Road, which ascended from the Pool of Siloam to the Jewish Temple, dates to no earlier than 30-31 CE, during the time of the notorious Roman governor Pontius Pilate. That was the period when Jesus was sentenced to death, City of David archaeologist Nahshon Szanton said in a 2017 video tour of the site.
However, Emek Shaveh, a left-wing organization committed to protecting archaeological sites as the shared heritage of all cultures and faiths in the country, disagreed with the City of David findings, saying that although the street is presented as part of the pilgrimage route, “the horizontal excavation method, and the paucity of scientific publication, do not allow us to know for sure when the street was built and how it was integrated into the urban layout of Jerusalem.”