Archeologists denounce plans for visitors center outside Old City

Construction of ‘Kedem Compound’ will destroy ancient relics, contribute to ‘Judaization’ of e. J'lem, group argues.

Proposed Kedem Compound in east Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy Emek Shaveh)
Proposed Kedem Compound in east Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy Emek Shaveh)
A consortium of prominent Israeli archeologists joined by Emek Shaveh, a group of community activists, have denounced the government and Antiquities Authority’s plans to build a compound in east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood.
The project in question, called “Kedem Compound,” is a proposed visitors center located in the Givati Parking Lot, atop ancient ruins opposite the walls of the Old City.
Initiated by the Elad organization, a private contractor, it was approved in February of 2012 by the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee.
Following its passage, Antiquities Authority Jerusalem District director, Yuval Baruch, lauded the project.
“This is one of the most important projects in Jerusalem in recent generations,” said Baruch. “It would be impossible to find a serious archeologist with a bad word to say about the conduct of the excavations.”
However, the archeologists against the project argue that any construction at the site would result in “destruction and damage to the fabric of ancient Jerusalem” by harming relics located under the building and contributing to the “Judaization” of east Jerusalem.
“This decision intends to strengthen Israel’s hold on east Jerusalem and make a statement about who owns Jerusalem and its past,” a Thursday statement accompanying a petition from the group read. “In addition to its political aspect, the building will alter the landscape of the Old City and its walls, and is unprecedented in the damage it will cause to an archeological tel.”
Archeologists from universities across the country, including Professors Ze’ev Herzog, Gideon Ferster, Raphael Greenberg, Rina Talgam, Haim Goldfus, Yuval Yekutieli and Judith Green, all signed a petition denouncing the project.
“We have here an exceptional case in which a private entrepreneur has been granted a permit to build a massive structure on a prominent site above an important, multistrata tel in ancient Jerusalem,” it stated.
In the petition the archeologists argue that construction of the compound will “damage Jerusalem’s role as a world heritage site and the preservation activities planned for the area.”
It also claimed that the building will harm Silwan’s residents.
The petition added that the construction plan contravenes previous decisions by the District Planning Commission by not presenting an appropriate preservation plan.
“It is impossible to construct a complex of this size without damaging archaeological remains related to Jerusalem’s Old City,” the statement continued. “Had the plan been aimed at protecting the archeological strata there would have been no need for a massive building atop the Givati Parking Lot, opposite the Old City walls.”
This argument alone, the statement read, should be sufficient grounds to reject the plan, “if the commission intends to adhere to previous statutory decisions whose purpose is to preserve the historical character of ancient Jerusalem.”
Moreover, the group argues that the authority, which is entrusted with protecting and preserving archeological remains, failed to present a plan explaining how construction at the site will preserve them.
“It is clear that various aspects of the plan – such as the building’s foundations, the parking area, etc. – will damage the remains which are visible, as well as those yet uncovered,” it stated.
Finally, the petition claims the project will set a dangerous precedent by permitting other construction initiatives around the Old City walls, damaging the archeological remains that “make such an important contribution to the landscape and to the area’s unique character.”
In response the petition, authority spokesman Yoli Schwartz said Thursday that the Antiquities Authority will provide an official statement shortly to the District Planning and Construction Committee.