Today, 16 November 2022, Al-Haq released its report on the ‘City of David,’ an illegal Israeli settlement and archaeological tourist site located in the Palestinian village of Silwan in annexed Jerusalem. Unlawfully built on appropriated Palestinian land, the fake ‘City of David’ was created upon the forced evictions of Palestinians and demolition of Palestinian homes. Using bogus archaeology and delegitimate excavations, the ‘City of David’ advances a false, colonial narrative that the history of the site is mainly, if not only, Jewish, in an attempt to erase the site’s ancient Palestinian, Muslim, and other non-Jewish heritage.
The report outlines the many violations of international law the settlement perpetuates and examines how private corporations not only sustain, but profit from the settlements, oppression and erasure of the Palestinian people. Annexes to the report include an exchange of letters between Al-Haq and Trip Advisor.
Below are four short stories, describing the main elements of the report:
Funding and Corruption
The fake ‘City of David’ was built with funds transferred from secret offshore accounts of companies owned by billionaire oil tycoon Roman Abramovich. He is the largest funder of Elad; a colonial-settler organization which manages the illegal ‘City of David’ site. Abramovich also makes significant donations to other Jewish causes. The vast hidden wealth of Russian oligarchs offers opportunities to undemocratically influence politics; where a few very wealthy people set and control the political agenda. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Israeli politicians wrote to the U.S. ambassador urging him not to add Abramovich to the list of sanctions. As other countries added Abramovich to their sanctions list of Russian oligarchs with ties to the Russian government and to President Putin, Israel wanted to protect him. These donations actively fund and advance the illegal ‘City of David’ settler-colonial enterprise.
Bogus archaeology and the fake ‘City of David’
Excavations at the illegal ‘City of David’ site in the Palestinian village of Silwan pursue and focus exclusively on Jewish archaeological finds to bolster the claim the area once hosted the biblical ‘City of David’. Artefacts found at the site date from many prehistoric and historical periods, but the fake ‘City of David’ tourist site deliberately hides the rich fabric of excavated Byzantine and Islamic period buildings. Digs conducted between 2014 and 2015 revealed major Byzantine discoveries, including a paved road of limestone slabs worn from use. Above the paved road lay a dirt road from the Islamic period with a stone drainage channel excavated intact. A 14th-century hammam (bathhouse) was also excavated at the site. It is one of the largest spaces excavated in the Western Wall Tunnels, a Mamluk structure that was erected by the governor of Damascus who is responsible for some of the most remarkable buildings of the period. Nothing informs the visitor of the historical significance of these discoveries. Visitors to the site are deceived into believing that little else of interest has been excavated at the ‘City of David’ site beyond Jewish First Temple ‘findings’. The hammam, for example, has been turned into an exhibition on Jewish ancestry. For Palestinians, it is the right to know and understand their own culture that is being grossly violated, with all links to the historic context of Palestine being permanently erased.
Destruction and misappropriation of Palestinian cultural property
Archaeologists working under Elad’s auspices irreversibly damage authentic artefacts in an attempt at reshaping and rewriting history. An 11th-century Muslim cemetery was dismantled at the illegal ‘City of David’ site. Several dozen skeletons, skulls and bone fragments from the early Islamic period were removed without inspection, filling 100 boxes which were stored and eventually buried. Destruction and misappropriation of Palestinian cultural property is a hallmark of Israel’s settler colonial enterprise. Horizontal excavation methods are employed which are much more invasive than other methods and damage the archaeological layers. Residents of the indigenous Palestinian houses in the vicinity of the illegal ‘City of David’ site see cracks and fissures in the walls and floors of their homes, and the stability of the buildings is affected from the underground excavations. To entrench its unlawful annexation of Jerusalem, Israel conducts excavation after excavation in the ‘City of David’ site to the detriment of the indigenous Palestinian population whose civil rights are infringed upon daily, amounting to grave violations of international law.
Corporate greed and manipulating the tourist narrative
Both Israeli and foreign companies profit from the illegal ‘City of David’ site, from the money generated from thousands of tourists who visit the site under the false narrative that a biblical city once stood there. Touristic companies that are directly or indirectly involved in the illegal Israeli settlement enterprise risk committing grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Excavations in occupied territory are illegal. Israel as an Occupying Power does not have the authority to allocate confiscated Palestinian land for excavation. Unlawful archaeological digging of Palestinian land and the cultural property of the protected population at the illegal ‘City of David’ site must stop. It constitutes illegal annexation, land appropriation and the destruction of property. These are all crimes under international law.