The City of David

The City of David National Park is the fulfilled vision of Be’eri, a man who is considered by some to be a national hero and by others as a dangerous, religious right-wing activist.

David ‘Davidele’ Be’eri (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
David ‘Davidele’ Be’eri
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
 A few years ago, I went on a short tour of Jerusalem’s City of David archeological site, as part of a symposium on the ancient history of the capital. The tour was led by David Be’eri, the man behind the vision and the mission of the site.
Be’eri led us down from the Old City’s Dung Gate until we reached a sealed wall, behind which, he told us in a whisper, very soon visitors would be able to literally touch the stones and the waters that have always been there, since King David’s days.
The City of David National Park is the fulfilled vision of Be’eri, a man who is considered by some to be a national hero and by others as a dangerous, religious right-wing activist.
Be’eri, 64, married and the father of six, was an officer in some of the most prestigious IDF units and was awarded the Israel Prize this year for his outstanding lifetime achievements.
As the founder of the Elad association, which manages the City of David site, Be’eri is also the promoter of a vast project to bring many Jews to live close to the Old City’s walls in the adjacent Silwan neighborhood.
Within a few years, this site has become a “must” on the circuit of high-ranking visitors to the capital.
Last week, Mayor Nir Barkat, one of Be’eri’s fervent supporters, not only welcomed but also joined the guided tour there organized for a group of UN ambassadors from various countries brought to Jerusalem by Israeli UN envoy Danny Danon.
Be’eri also enjoys a lot of support from the government, specifically from Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is also chairman of the right-wing Bayit Yehudi Party. The prize and political support from the Right have aroused critics of Be’eri on the Left, which argues that his projects have come at the cost of displacing Arab families from their homes.
According to Ir Amim, a left-wing NGO, Elad purchased Arab housing through foreign real-estate companies.
The City of David and Be’eri’s position is that the houses were bought lawfully at the highest prices.
Another criticism comes from archeologists, who claim that the excavations run and financed by Elad are aimed at erasing the Muslim history of the area, in order to emphasize only the Jewish connection, and thus distorting the historical facts.
There is no argument that for Barkat, the City of David, with a special emphasis on its historical and archeological findings, is a most important venue, as it brings a large number of tourists to the city.
At the beginning, Be’eri’s plan was mainly to install as many Jewish families as possible in Silwan, which was originally a neighborhood of mainly Yemenite Jews who settled there in the 19th century and were themselves displaced by Arab rioting during the pre-state British Mandate and replaced by Arab squatters.
The project – some 200 houses for Jewish families in Silwan, which includes the City of David – began in the 1980s. Over the years, Be’eri’s goal became making the City of David a site for both local visitors and tourists from abroad to learn about the roots of the site in Jewish history, back to the days of King David.
The excavations, including the waters of the ancient Shiloah spring and its very special meaning in Jewish history, are all there to ensure that a visitor enjoys a unique emotional experience.
It is no surprise that, on the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city, Be’eri and his outstanding project would be mentioned and honored, and hence he was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize on Independence day. For decades now, his educational vision has been shared by thousands of schoolchildren and soldiers, locals and tourists each year.
But that has not ended the controversy as far as the Left is concerned. MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) responded to Be’eri’s prize by accusing him and the City of David of undermining any possible future peace deal with the Palestinians, and of evicting Arab families from the site in order to enlarge it.
The City of David is considered to be the biblical city of Jerusalem captured by King David more than 3,000 years ago.
When Be’eri, then an officer of an elite military unit, first visited the site in the mid-1980s, it was concealed beneath centuries of garbage and waste.
Be’eri’s reaction was to leave his army career and dedicate himself to establishing the City of David Foundation, revealing and connecting people to ancient Jerusalem’s glorious past through four key initiatives: archeological excavation, tourism development, educational programming and residential revitalization.
The foundation runs activities at three historic sites of ancient Jerusalem: the City of David National Park, East Talpiot, and the Mount of Olives, which together bring hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. At the same time, the Antiquities Authority is excavating three sites in the City of David sponsored by the foundation: at the former Silwan parking lot, Beit Hama’ayan and the Herodian Road.
While in 2001 the foundation had only 25,000 visitors, their number has risen to the hundreds of thousands annually, in proportion to the some three million tourists who visit Israel each year.
The City of David Foundation funds most of the excavations conducted in recent years in the City of David and surrounding areas. All excavations are conducted by the Antiquities Authority, or with its approval.
David Be’eri declined to be interviewed for this article.