The City of David, the narrow spur of land extending southward from the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount), represents — if the experts are correct — the original settled core of ancient Jerusalem, and for that reason it is hugely important to the disciplines of historical geography and archaeology, among others. The City of David is also part of a larger, living community known as Silwan, populated by many Palestinian Arabs and a few Jews and lying in the part of Jerusalem unilaterally “annexed” by the State of Israel after the 1967 war. Not surprisingly perhaps, with the extensive archaeological projects undertaken in recent years, and the development of a very popular and busy “national park” (in quotes for a reason!), the area has emerged as a flash point for a number of issues central to the ongoing struggle over Jerusalem. And the archaeology, and the way it has been carried out, is not tangential to all this — it is central.
In response, a Jerusalem NGO was formed which goes by the name “Emek Shaveh” (a biblical place-name found in Gen. 14:17), a group composed of Israeli archaeologists, local Silwan residents and others. They have attempted for the past few years to open some of these issues up to public scrutiny and public discourse, in the hopes of finding just, rational solutions for this conflicted neighborhood. For one thing, they operate their own visitors’ information center on Ir David Street. They also conduct a free walking tour that highlights not only the fascinating achaeology but also the neigborhood’s troubling social, legal and political crosscurrents (register here). I would encourage you to seek out these two resources when you are in Jerusalem, again — if you dare. The Emek Shaveh bunch, frankly, are the “small group of vocal protestors” whose complaints Hershel Shanks so blithely dismisses in his current editorial in BAR (which I will not deconstruct today — maybe another time).
One of the principals of the organization is archaeologist Dr. Rafi Greenberg of Tel Aviv University, who has spoken out repeatedly over the years on what he sees as problematic aspects (especially political) of Israeli archaeology. For example, here is a 2006 interview focusing on Israeli practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories over the last 40-plus years. More recently, here is his opinion piece which appeared in Haaretz (October 2009) dealing with the troubling aspects, as he sees them, of the archaeological work currently being carried out in Jerusalem.
In any event, the Emek Shaveh group has just published a free, informative booklet which presents, in an organized way, their “take” on what is going on in Silwan/the City of David today. Their web-site says:
After almost a year of work, we have published the booklet “Archaeology in the Shadow of the Conflict: The Mound of Ancient Jerusalem (City of David) in Silwan”. This publication discusses the responsibility of the archaeologist in a conflict zone, the relations of local residents to the scientific research, and the political impact of archaeology on the conflict. This is the first ever attempt to show the role of Archaeology in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, and to propose an alternative to the way archaeology is being practiced, presented and accepted by the general public. The excavation site “City of David” and the Palestinian town of Silwan on the outskirts of East Jerusalem are used as a test case for those issues. But the core of the issues discussed in the booklet is applicable to many cases of archaeology in conflict zones, in a variety of places and sites.
You are welcome to download your copy from their web site (where there are many other resources as well), or you can order a printed copy in Hebrew, English or Arabic. (Note: The downloadable version, perhaps to keep the file-size managable, has low-resolution graphics; some of these maps, etc. can probably be found elsewhere on the site, though.)
The booklet, I think, will either open your eyes to issues you had never considered before — or it will give you heartburn, or maybe a bit of both! But, in my opinion, these are voices worth listening to.