Mixed reactions to Israeli tourist site

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the opening of Pilgrimage Road at the City of David archaeological site in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, on June 30, 2019. (Flash90)

ISRAEL has reopened the road that ancient pilgrims walked to get to the Second Temple, in a move that is being met by both applause and fury.

Leading the applause, America’s ambassador to Israel David Friedman attended the opening ceremony and said it is “one of the great archeological discoveries of our lifetime, probably of the past century, maybe of the last 2,000 years.”

At the ceremony he took a sledgehammer and broke through a wall to reveal the opening of the new site. Friedman and others at the ceremony were quick to draw political conclusions from the archaeological find.

Friedman said that if anyone had doubts about the decision of his boss, Donald Trump, to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital then “I certainly think this lays all doubts to rest.” Nir Barkat, Knesset member and former Jerusalem mayor, said: “Hopefully the world will now understand why we will never never divide the city of Jerusalem.”

The road, which has been excavated in a tunnel under the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan, is thought to have been the route that Jewish people took on the pilgrimage festivals, allowing them to go from a mikvah straight to the temple.

David Be’eri, director of the City of David and one of the instigators of the excavations, said that the road “paved the way for tens of thousands of pilgrims from across the Land of Israel and the four corners of the globe on their way to the Temple.” He is excited that “soon millions of visitors from Israel and abroad will be able to walk once again on those very same stones.”

The team that oversaw the excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority said: “Two thousand years after the destruction of Jerusalem, we have managed to go back in time and actually touch the last moments of the city before it was destroyed.”

But not everyone is delighted by the opening of the road. Palestinian leaders were livid as the road is in eastern Jerusalem and the excavation took place under Palestinian homes. Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the PLO, claimed that the participation of Friedman and other US officials made it a “day of infamy and disgrace.”

Even before the site opening Palestinian leaders were already angry with the US over last week’s peace summit in Bahrain, where the US launched a peace plan which they claims betrays their cause. Opposition to the US plan is so strong among Ramallah officials that a Palestinian businessman who broke ranks and attended the Bahrain summit, Saleh Abu Mayaleh from Hebron, was briefly arrested after his return home.

Concern about the new Jerusalem site isn’t limited to Palestinians. Documents revealed by the left-wing Emek Shaveh NGO appear to show that some senior officials at the Antiquities Authority had misgivings about the excavations.

Peace Now claimed that the new site is “part of the transformation of Silwan into a Disneyland of the messianic extreme right wing in Israel and the United States.” The lobby group also claimed that opening a new Israeli tourist site in eastern Jerusalem is a bad move because it would make it harder to divide the city for a peace deal.

NATHAN JEFFAY