Accusations that El-Ad (City of David Foundation) was taking over the Jerusalem Archeological Park and the Davidson Center without a legal tender, in order to implement a right-wing agenda, have no merit, the foundation said Wednesday.
The land that El-Ad is to acquire includes approximately two-thirds of the exposed part of the Western Wall, Robinson’s Arch, stones from the Temples’ destruction, a Herodian street and remains from the Islamic period.
Robinson’s Arch is the location where Women of the Wall were granted a neutral prayer section last year, following protracted and contentious negotiations with the government.
After months of ongoing talks with the Jerusalem Quarter Development Company (JQDC), which presently manages the park and center, El-Ad vice president Doron Spielman said Wednesday that the deal is legally sound and will not affect any current government agreements. The agreement is expected to be signed shortly, pending final legal approval, he said.
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.
A nonprofit organization established in 1986, El-Ad says it is “dedicated to the preservation and development of the Biblical City of David and its environs, and is committed to connecting people from around the world to ancient Jerusalem’s glorious past.”
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, El-Ad built a popular underground tunnel between the City of David and Davidson Park, called the Herodian Channel.
A Tuesday report in Haaretz said that following the acquisition, El-Ad plans to “tighten the link between the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, the City of David and the Western Wall” by increasing Jewish construction in the area.
Refuting accusations that El-Ad “is heavily involved in settling Jews in Palestinian homes purchased in Silwan through front men and foreign companies,” Spielman said the company has no involvement in Silwan’s residential market.
“To Arabs the City of David is considered Silwan, but in reality we are purchasing land in the City of David, which is a separate location,” he said. “They’re making us out to be ‘settlers’ because we buy properties in the City of David, which is in Jerusalem.”
Spielman added that because the Jerusalem Archeological Park presently oversees Robinson’s Arch, leftwing groups assume that El-Ad will breach the government- signed agreement with Women of the Wall.
“That is so not true,” he said. “When the agreement is finalized, we will honor all previous agreements with the State of Israel, including Women of the Wall.”
Moreover, 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 received a legal opinion that a draft agreement between them could be signed without publishing a tender. Therefore, according to Haaretz, “left-wing groups are expected to fight the decision, since it would expand El-Ad’s foothold in east Jerusalem and further solidify its relationship with state authorities.”
The ongoing negotiations between El-Ad and JQDC stemmed from a financial dispute between East Jerusalem Development, Ltd., which manages the archeological site and the Davidson Center, and the JQDC, which owns the land.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled in December that East Jerusalem Development defaulted on years of rent payments to JQDC, and was ordered to pay its debt and hand over the site to JQDC by the end of this year.
It is reported that El-Ad will agree to assume the roughly NIS 2 million debt owed by East Jerusalem Development as part of its contract.
“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,” said Spielman.
“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.”
Spielman added that since 2011, when the Antiquities Authority opened the Herodian Channel, tours of the City of David regularly conclude inside the Davidson Center, “essentially linking these two sites into a singular tourism experience.”
Meanwhile, Jerusalem Portfolio head Dr. Meir Margalit (Meretz) denounced the possible acquisition deal Wednesday 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.”
The councilman added that he feared El-Ad would attempt to destroy Muslim and Christian artifacts in the areas under their authority.
“Many archeologists say they destroy artifacts belonging to Muslims and Christian periods,” he said.
“This is nothing more than a political agenda.”
In response to Margalit’s contention that El-Ad would destroy artifacts from other religions, Spielman noted that the Antiquities Authority ensures strict oversight of all investigations, and would not allow such destruction under any circumstances.
“The archeological authority that excavates at the site is solely the Antiquities Authority – one of the world’s most renowned archeological bodies,” said Spielman. “The guidelines of that authority... give equal standing to all significant structures relating to all periods in all excavations in Israel, including those at the City of David.”