US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and the White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt are due to participate Sunday in the inauguration of an archaeological tourist site in East Jerusalem, drawing rebuke from the Palestinian Authority and a left-wing Israeli organization.
In response, Greenblatt called the PA criticism “ludicrous.”
The event, hosted by the City of David in the mostly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, south of the Old City, will also be attended by Israeli ministers and lawmakers.
It will inaugurate the Pilgrims’ Road, a now-subterranean stairway that is said to have served as a main artery for Jews to the Temple Mount thousands of years ago, which archaeologists have been excavating for the past eight years at the City of David National Park in Jerusalem, beginning at the intersection of the Kidron and Ben Hinnom Valleys.
But the dovish Peace Now group slammed the initiative on Saturday, branding the Pilgrim’s Road “the controversy tunnel” and saying it had been “dug under the homes of Silwan residents, caused the evacuation of Palestinians’ homes in the neighborhood and increased tensions between Palestinian residents and the Jewish settlers acting more intensively than ever in recent years to Judaize the neighborhood, as part of an effort to sabotage the two-state solution.”
Peace Now said it would demonstrate outside the event in protest of “the trampling of Jerusalem as a city that is holy to the three [monotheistic] religions and belongs to all its residents, and turning Silwan into the messianic Disneyland of the far-right in Israel and the United States — several meters from the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount.”
The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry released a statement condemning the “imperialistic Judaization plans” it charged were aimed at changing the status quo in the city. It slammed US President Donald Trump’s administration for “fully supporting the imperialistic settlement enterprise led by the far-right in the occupation state” over the officials’ participation.
But on Sunday, Greenblatt dismissed the criticism as “ludicrous,” adding on Twitter that “we can’t ‘Judaize’ what history/archaeology show. We can acknowledge it & you can stop pretending it isn’t true! Peace can only be built on truth.”
Doron Spielman, vice president of the City of David Foundation, wrote a Times of Israel op-ed on Sunday, describing the unique operation to uncover the site.
“The discovery of the Pilgrimage Road was an unprecedented scientific feat of biblical proportions,” he wrote.
“Unlike most archaeological digs which begin from the ground down, this excavation was done subterraneously, beneath the hustle and bustle of modern Jerusalem,” he wrote. “Dozens of fiber optic 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,” Spielman added.
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.”
The Pilgrims’ Road, which ascends 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. This was the period when Jesus was sentenced to death, City of David archaeologist Nahshon Szanton said in a 2017 video tour of the site.
“Every step on this street brought the pilgrims closer to the Temple,” Szanton said. “Imagine to yourselves the joy, the songs, the prayers, the spiritual journey that these people experience when they know they are just meters away from reaching the gates of the Temple,” he added, climbing the monumental staircase.
לאחר 6 שנים של חפירות מרתקות ב"דרך עולי הרגל" וחשיפת גרם המדרגות האדיר אשר שימש את עולי הרגל בדרכם אל בית המקדש, תוך עשרות גילויים מפתיעים ומרגשים מתולדות ירושלים הקדומה נחשון זנטון – אשר ניהל את החפירה המרשימה הזו, יוצא לכתיבת דוקטורט במטרה לסכם את כל הממצאים החשובים שנאספו עד כה. עיני העולם כולו נשואות לחפירות הללו ולתגליות הרבות והמשמעותיות שנחשפו עד כה ושממתינות עדיין להיחשף. אנו שמחים שאדם כמו נחשון היווה חלק משמעותי מפרויקט כה חשוב ומיוחד ומאחלים לו הצלחה רבה!
Posted by עיר דוד- ירושלים הקדומה on Monday, November 20, 2017
According to the City of David, the Herodian road was lined with shops and businesses to serve the thousands of pilgrims to Jerusalem on the major holidays.
The broad road is a monumental achievement: Szanton estimated that some 10,000 tons of quarried rock was used in its construction. The road was built above a complex drainage system, which rebels hid in 40 years after the Pilgrims’ Path’s construction as the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
The drainage channel “was essentially a manmade tunnel,” according to the City of David, and was built underneath the Herodian Road. Its ceiling is made of the rectangular paving stones of the pilgrims’ road above.
Amanda Borschel-Dan contributed to this report.