Israel media review

Subterranean hammering blues: 7 things to know for July 1

US envoys hailed/slammed for taking part in an opening for an archaeological site under East Jerusalem; and people are roiled by planes, police and an ‘anti-Semitic’ campaign

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) and White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt break down a specially built wall in front of the Pilgrimage Road, at a ceremony in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, on June 30, 2019. (Facebook/Screen capture)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) and White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt break down a specially built wall in front of the Pilgrimage Road, at a ceremony in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, on June 30, 2019. (Facebook/Screen capture)

1. Everything’s heavy underground: US envoys David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt attended the opening of an excavated ancient pathway in East Jerusalem’s City of David, in a move that they herald — and is widely pilloried or celebrated — as another sign of American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over disputed parts of the capital

  • “Whether there was ever any doubt about the accuracy, the wisdom, the propriety of [US] President [Donald] Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I certainly think this lays all doubts to rest,” said Friedman.
  • The ceremony was for the opening of the so-called “Pilgrimage Road,” a now-subterranean stairway that was said to have served as a main artery for Jews to the Temple Mount thousands of years ago. The road runs under part of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, which has been a central battleground over the last decade as Israeli groups have attempted to both move in as residents and expand an archaeological park administered (for the state) by the right-wing Elad organization.
  • “This recognition doesn’t just put the American administration on the extreme right of the Israeli political map – thus undercutting the claim that America can be an unbiased broker between Israel and the Palestinians – but it also ignores the complicated reality in Silwan, East Jerusalem and the entire region,” chides Haaretz in its lead editorial.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth quotes negotiator Saeb Erekat calling Friedman a “settler extremist.”
  • Peace Now, which protested the event, is widely quoted calling the event “no less than American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the sensitive area of the Holy Basin.”

2. Hammering it home: The envoys didn’t only watch the opening, but helped tear down a fake wall as part of a ceremony that puts plain old giant ribbon cutting ceremonies to shame.

  • The image of Friedman in particular swinging a sledgehammer and taking down a wall is just too yummy a metaphor to be ignored, and it’s quickly seized upon.
  • “U.S. Envoy Swings Sledgehammer in East Jerusalem, and a Metaphor Is Born,” reads a headline in the New York Times.
  • “Every time I think they’ve done their worst, they come up with something more,” PLO official Hanan Ashrawi tells the paper. “They will go to any length to show collusion, identification with and support for all these illegal acts, for the transformation of the character of Jerusalem, and for the willful targeting of Palestinians.”

3. Breaking news: Friedman takes issue with the sledgehammer headlines, writing on Twitter that it wasn’t even a real wall.

  • His particular ire seems to be aimed at this Russia Today headline.
  • In response, left-wing Jerusalem activist Daniel Seidemann finds a silver lining in the fact that Friedman at least noted the possibility of Palestinian existence, something he apparently did not do in a Fox News interview.

4. Can you dig it? Doron Spielman, veep of the City of David foundation, touts the discovery and excavation of the road as a “an unprecedented scientific feat of biblical proportions.”

  • “Unlike most archaeological digs which begin from the ground down, this excavation was done in the subterraneous, beneath the hustle and bustle of modern Jerusalem. Tens of fibrotic cable cameras were used to decipher where to excavate, while maps and diagrams made by archaeologists over the last century and a half paved the way forward. As archaeologists used the delicate tools of their trade to slowly discover the past, Israel’s leading engineers were on hand to fortify not only the excavation, but everything above it.”
  • On Twitter, archaeology writer Michael Press says the techniques used to dig out the site have been outdated for over a century.
  • And a number of people dig up (get it?) a Haaretz piece from a couple of years ago in which Silwan Palestinians said they had to leave their homes over the excavations, and another one in which senior IAA archaeologists criticized the excavation.
  • ToI’s Jacob Magid notes that left-wing group Emek Shaveh released a report noting that “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.”

5. Grounded: The event makes major international headlines, but barely registers a blip in the local Hebrew press, where the closing of the Sde Dov airport and the shooting of a black man in a Haifa suburb are much more on the radar.

  • Both the Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth headlines lead their papers with the front page headline “Last flight,” accompanied by pictures of the last flight from Eilat to Sde Dov in Tel Aviv.
  • “End of an era,” writes Danny Sadeh, writing of the sadness of many that surrounded the final flight.
  • “Customer relations manager Moni Shafir stood at the entrance to the plane and didn’t hide his emotions. Again and again, he repeated the flight details and emphasized that this is a sad day because it’s the last Israir flight from Sde Dov to Eilat,” he writes.
  • Israel Hayom’s Aharon Lapidot writes that the airport is “the home of land of Israel air transportation,” going back to its opening in 1938, before the state was born, and it being home to the IAF’s first squadron.
  • But despite widespread protests over the airport and promises of major labor actions, there is a sense of unhappy resignation over the decision to close the field.
  • “It seems it this point it’s too late to turn back and the state needs to stand by its commitment to the owners of the land. But closing the airport is terrible from all sides. Selling out the future — not even that far off — for a little profit in the present,” he writes.

6. No justice, no peace: Anger is even more just as widespread after an off-duty police officer kills a 19-year-old man from the Ethiopian community in Kiryat Haim. On Monday, the officer is arrested, after protests.

  • According to reports, an eyewitness told the Police Internal Investigations Unit that contrary to the officer’s claims, he did not appear to have been in danger when he opened fire on Solomon Tekah.
  • Walla reports that protesters stood outside the police officer’s home yelling “here lives a killer,” and even blocked a major highway in the area.
  • “We are fuming over the reason for his death. We are roiled and in pain over the loss,” the news site quotes Tekah’s former youth group leader, who was among the protesters, saying.

7. Fear of a black hat: People are also unhappy with an ad put out by Yisrael Beytenu showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an ultra-Orthodox man, with black hat and sidelocks.

  • “Liberman continues to incite,” reads a headline in the religious right-wing Srugim website.
  • Ultra-Orthodox website B’Hadrey Haredim also calls the campaign “anti-Semitic.”
  • “A shocking and disgusting video,” Kol Barama editor Yisrael Cohen complains on Twitter. “It would be interesting to see what Liberman would think if in Russia they put an ad out like that on Putin with sidelocks. Real anti-Semitism.”
  • Even Labor’s token religious member Yaya Fink (as of this week with Ehud Barak’s new party) writes that Liberman’s video is “repulsive with signs of anti-Semitism, and comes from someone with enormous influence who has done almost nothing to advance Jewish pluralism in Israel.”
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