Less than two weeks after accusations surfaced that El-Ad (City of David Foundation) was taking over the Jerusalem Archeological Park and the Davidson Center adjacent to the Western Wall without a legal tender and to implement a right-wing agenda, an appeal has been filed to halt the transfer.
Emek Shaveh, a Jerusalem- based organization of archeologists and community activists, filed the appeal Monday with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein over concerns that El-Ad will interfere with excavations and terminate the egalitarian Robinson’s Arch prayer site.
Robinson’s Arch – south of the Western Wall and along its continuation – is where Women of the Wall were granted a neutral prayer section last year, following protracted and contentious negotiations with the government.
In the appeal, Emek Shaveh denounced the pending transfer, expected to be finalized shortly, citing a legal precedent that no private foundation is permitted to run the Western Wall Plaza.
“According to the decision of former attorney-general Menachem Mazuz, it was decided that the Western Wall cannot be managed by a private body, but solely by the government,” the appeal stated.
The petition went on to state that management of the Davidson Center cannot be transferred without a tender.
“The tender’s obligation was raised in the past following the transfer of the Western Wall Plaza to the management of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which also was done without a tender,” it said.
The Davidson Center is located in the Ophel excavation area, south of the Temple Mount, and is the largest continuous excavation site in the Old City. Antiquities unearthed there include graves from the Abbasid period from the 8-9th centuries CE, as well as remnants from large structures from the Umayyad period dating back to 7-8th centuries CE.
“The location of the site at the foot of the Temple Mount and beside the Western Wall renders it an inseparable part of the landscape of holy places in the Old City,” the appeal stated.
“The significance of the site is that it represents Jerusalem through various historical periods. The archeological findings exemplify a multifaced, complex, and diverse city. The remnants of the past, which are located beside the most politically sensitive sites, embody an important medium in the representation of Jerusalem’s pluralistic past and the value of accepting the other, both in the past and in the present.”
El-Ad, deemed a settlement- abetting enterprise by left-wing organizations, works with the National Parks Authority and Antiquities Authority to excavate and maintain the City of David National Park, adjacent to the Old City’s walls.
The foundation runs activities at three historic sites in ancient Jerusalem – the City of David National Park, Armon Hanatziv and the Mount of Olives – attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Additionally, the foundation built a popular underground tunnel between the City of David and Davidson Park, called the Herodian Channel.
Despite the appeal, El-Ad vice president Doron Spielman said last month that the deal was legally sound and arranged after months of ongoing talks with the Jerusalem Quarter Development Company (JQDC), which presently manages the park and center.
After reviewing several possible candidates, Spielman said the JQDC approached El-Ad to acquire its sites due to its successful track record of increasing tourism in the City of David, raising millions of shekels in funding and facilitating numerous notable archeological excavations.
The two parties subsequently received a legal opinion that a draft agreement between them could be signed without publishing a tender.
Spielman said that the pending transaction will not affect any current government agreements – including the one designating Robinson’s Arch a neutral prayer area – under any circumstances.
“As is the case with the City of David National Park, the El-Ad Foundation’s operation of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park and the Davidson Center will ensure that people of all nationalities and religious affiliations will be welcomed at the site,” he said.
“We are looking forward to partnering with all relevant government bodies involved in this project, continuing to develop this important site for the benefit of all those seeking to connect with the beauty of Jerusalem, both ancient and modern.”
Meanwhile, Jerusalem councilman Dr. Meir Margalit (Meretz) denounced the deal as a thinly veiled political maneuver.
“El-Ad is a political organization with a right-wing agenda,” said Margalit. “A tender should have been published for a professional organization, not a political one.”