US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, accompanied by White House envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt and Israeli ministers, will be involved in an inaugural ceremony dedicated to the discovery of Pilgrimage Road in the City of David of Jerusalem - a site believed to date back to the Second Temple period.
The expected presence of American officials at the event will be the first time the United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty within areas of the Old City Basin.
Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO that works to "defend cultural heritage rights and to protect ancient sites as public assets that belong to members of all communities, faiths and peoples," believes that the event is an act by the Israeli government to strengthen their presence in these conflicted areas through "extensive tourism development and archaeological excavations in Silwan and the Old City."
"This [event] is a further step in American support for the pro-settlement policy in Jerusalem, and particularly the touristic-settlement projects," Emek Shaveh said in a statement.
The NGO believes the consistent use of archaeology to "entrench" Israeli sovereignty over Palestinian controlled areas of Jerusalem in an attempt to shape it's historic landscape can produce dangerous outcomes for both the Israeli and Palestinian people.
"It is inexcusable to ignore the Palestinian residents of Silwan, carrying out extensive excavations of an underground city and to use such excavations as part of an effort to tell a historical story that is exclusively Jewish in a 4,000 year-old city with a rich and diverse cultural and religious past," the NGO wrote.
In 2004, a sewage pipe burst in the middle of the neighborhood of Silwan in southeast Jerusalem. The municipality sent in a crew of construction workers to fix the leak and, as is the case in Jerusalem and especially in neighborhoods adjacent to the Old City, they were accompanied by a team of archaeologists.
As the repairs progressed, the construction workers stumbled upon some long and wide stairs a few dozen meters from Shiloah Pool. The ancient pool was where Jewish pilgrims would immerse before beginning the religious ascent to the Temple, until its destruction in 70 CE. The steps were just like the ones that lead to the Hulda Gates, a set of now blocked entrances along the Temple Mount’s Southern Wall.Discovery of the Shiloah Pool
led to another monumental find – the central water drainage channel that had served ancient Jerusalem. This channel is the tunnel that visitors to the City of David – known as Ir David – get to walk through today, starting at the bottom of the Shiloah and emerging about 45 minutes later next to the Western Wall.
The ancient street is referred to as “Pilgrimage Road,” since archaeologists are convinced that this is the path millions of Jews took three times a year when performing the commandment of aliyah l’regel
– going up to the holy city of Jerusalem to bring sacrifices to God during three of Judaism’s key holidays: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot (Tabernacles).
The Pilgrimage Road goes all the way from Shiloah pool to the area adjacent to the Western Wall known as Robinson’s Arch, where today you can still see remnants of the ancient stairway that led into the Jewish Temple.
Titus Flavius Josephus, the first-century Roman-Jewish historian, wrote that 2.7 million people used to visit Jerusalem during the various Jewish holidays, bringing with them some 256,000 sacrifices.
Almost all of the Jewish pilgrims, according to Doron Spielman, vice president of the Ir David Foundation (Elad), would have entered the city on this road. It is a road that Jesus almost certainly used during the Second Temple period, along with many of the famous Jewish scholars and leaders of that period.
“This place is the heart of the Jewish people, and is like the blood that courses through our veins,” Spielman said.
Spielman pointed out some black ash discovered along the road and mentioned the thousands of coins the archaeologists uncovered, engraved with the words “Free Zion.”
“This was the battle cry during the fight against the Romans,” he explained. “They made coins and not arrowheads, because they knew they could not beat Rome, but they made the coins so there would be something left for the people who would one day come back.”
It proves the long and historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem, Orenstein stressed, not just the parts where Jews live today but also across the city, even if it takes you under homes and streets in Arab neighborhoods like Silwan.
Ambassador Friedman agrees. “The City of David brings truth and science to a debate that has been marred for too long by myths and deceptions,” he told Jerusalem Post
Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz. “Its findings, in most cases by secular archaeologists, bring an end to the baseless efforts to deny the historical fact of Jerusalem’s ancient connection to the Jewish people.”
asked Friedman why the discovery of Pilgrimage Road was important for the US government.
“There has been enormous support for the City of David by the American public,” he said. “This is yet another example – and a great one – of the recognition of the Judeo-Christian values upon which both nations were founded.”
Pilgrimage Road, Friedman said, is “stunning and tangible evidence” of Jewish prayer during the time of the Second Temple. “It brings to life the historical truth of that momentous period in Jewish history,” he added. “Peace between Israel and the Palestinians must be based upon a foundation of truth. The City of David advances our collective goal of pursuing a truth-based resolution. It is important for all sides of the conflict.”
For Spielman, Ir David is the “heart of the Jewish people” and “you can’t amputate the heart.”
asked Friedman what would happen if a peace deal were to be concluded one day between Israel and the Palestinians. Is it possible that the Jewish state would be asked to give up Ir David or Silwan?
“I do not believe that Israel would ever consider such a thought,” he said. “The City of David is an essential component of the national heritage of the State of Israel. It would be akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty.”
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