Friday, August 28, 2015

PCG and the Dark Side of Politicized Archaeology in East Jerusalem

October-November 2013 issue.

It is well known that PCG has for many years now conducted archaeological digs in Jerusalem associated with Dr. Eilat Mazar. But what is not so well known among those affected by Armstrongism is what is currently happening around the area in which these archaeological digs occur, namely in the predominantly Palestinian inhabited suburb of Silwan, a suburb of East Jerusalem. Do PCG's leaders and lay members fully understand what is happening at the moment in Silwan? People deserve to know what is happening.

PCG is so fixated on the precious archaeological artifacts in the ground but what about the people who now live there today so near to the archaeological digs PCG loves to boast about?

Introducing Elad (City of David)

Back in January 2008 Stephen Flurry wrote an article that talks about Elad, a settler organization that operates in East Jerusalem. The name Elad is based on an acronym meaning City of David.
One of our readers alerted us to a story that appeared in the South China Morning Post on January 3 (subscription only). In recent years, the article explains, a right-wing settler group known as Elad has transformed the City of David into one of Jerusalem’s most popular tourist attractions—drawing 350,000 visitors a year, most of them Israelis.

The location of the archaeological park is what makes it so controversial. It’s imbedded in the low-income Arab neighborhood of Silwan—in the annexed half of Jerusalem that Israel captured in 1967. Silwan has about 40,000 Arab residents. Since 1991, according to Elad spokesman Doron Spielman, about 300 Jews have moved into the neighborhood, most of them proudly flying Israeli flags, behind heavily fortified property lines.

Within the archaeological park, there are numerous ongoing excavations, both above ground and below—the best-known being King David’s palace, discovered in 2005. The SCMP article points out how some “dovish Israeli archaeologists” either disagree with the conclusions of their peers who are excavating the City of David or take exception with the strong emphasis tour guides place on the Jewish history being uncovered at the park. (Stephen Flurry, Division in the City of David, January 19, 2008.)
Later in the article the South China Morning Post article is quoted to mention a plan to demolish 88 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.
Palestinian fears of Israeli intentions are not entirely baseless. In 2005, Jerusalem municipal engineer Uri Shetreet announced plans to demolish an entire section of Silwan—88 homes—to make room for an archaeological park. Amid an international uproar, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski distanced himself from the plans. (South China Morning Post article as quoted in Stephen Flurry, Division in the City of David, January 19, 2008.)
So the Palestinians of Silwan are fearful that their homes will be demolished. That seems to be the simple truth behind what drives the Palestinians of Silwan to protest about these things.
The article concludes by quoting a dovish archaeologist who said, “Archaeology should not be a political tool.” Dr. Yoni Mizrachi, who wonders aloud if King David was anything more than a mythical figure, offers this tidbit of convoluted self-hatred:
If I find a synagogue or a mosque or a church [and] it tells me about the past of a place … that doesn’t mean that one person has more rights in a place because the find belongs to his culture. The past also belongs to those who live here now. Even if they found the palace of David, it doesn’t mean that what existed 3,000 years ago needs to be resumed today. 
He should apply that same “logic” on both sides. If it’s wrong for Jewish settlers to lay claim to the region by raising the ruins of their historical legacy, where does that leave Islamic scholars who inexplicably deny that those ruins even exist, or work behind-the-scenes to destroy them in some cases, all while holding the position that the Jewish nation is illegitimate and should be obliterated? (Stephen Flurry, Division in the City of David, January 19, 2008.)
It should be noted that when Stephen Flurry talks of Dr. Mizrachi's "convoluted self-hatred" he is accusing Dr. Mizrachi of being anti-Semitic even though he happens to be a Jew. How can one accuse a Jew of being anti-Semitic? By calling him or her a "self hating Jew". That is the concept Stephen Flurry is alluding to here.

But what Dr. Mizrachi says above seems perfectly sensible. What archaeological remains there are underground in Jerusalem, whatever they are, should not be used to force people out of their homes today, whether they are Palestinian or of any other ethnicity.

What if it was discovered that PCG's unaccredited College in Edmond happened to be built on top of a site sacred to Native Americans for thousands of years? Should PCG be forced to move out if such a thing happened?

Stephen Flurry talks of "Jewish settlers [trying] to lay claim to the region by raising the ruins of their historical legacy". This indicates that Stephen Flurry thinks these Israeli settlers associated with Elad are actually trying to lay claim to the land, namely the predominantly Palestinian inhabited suburb of Silwan, using archaeology. Does Stephen Flurry agree with using archaeology in that way? What about the Palestinians who live there already? Why won't he think about how they would view this matter?

The Palestinians of Silwan did not settle into Silwan to seize it from the State of Israel. Rather the State of Israel gained control of East Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967 with all these Palestinians there.

Stephen Flurry complains that some "Islamic scholars" said things that he disagrees with. Regardless of what these "Islamic scholars" may have said nevertheless archaeology must not be used to force people out of their homes. It is amazing that Stephen Flurry does not seem to understand that.

Archaeology "Hard-Wired" into Politics

Stephen Flurry mentioned Elad again in another article later in 2008.
Last Sunday, an Associated Press story run by numerous publications outlined how archaeology in Silwan is “hard-wired into the politics of modern-day Arab-Israeli strife” and that new digs in the ancient city are cutting to the heart of who owns the holy city today. “Palestinians and Israelis are trying again to negotiate a peace deal, one which must include an agreement to share Jerusalem,” the AP report says. “The collision in this neighbourhood—between Silwan and the City of David—encapsulates the complexities ahead.”

AP explains that in recent years, the Elad Foundation, an organization associated with the religious settlement movement, has funded archeological digs in the City of David, which is just outside the walled Old City. The area has expanded to become one of Jerusalem’s most popular tourist attractions, drawing 350,000 visitors a year, most of them Israelis. Within the archaeological park, there are numerous ongoing excavations, both above ground and below. ...

The location of the archaeological park, though, is what makes it so controversial. It’s imbedded in the low-income Arab neighborhood of Silwan—in the annexed half of Jerusalem that Israel captured in 1967 and which the Palestinians want for the capital of a Palestinian state. Silwan has about 40,000 Arab residents.

While Israel wants to reconnect with its past, Palestinians accuse the Jews of using archaeology as a political weapon. The AP says the Elad Foundation has a yearly budget of about $10 million, most of it from donations, “and is buying up Palestinian homes in Silwan to accommodate Jewish families. Around 50 have moved in so far, living in houses flying Israeli flags and guarded by armed security men paid for by the Israeli government.” (Stephen Flurry, Uncovering Ancient Jerusalem, February 15, 2008.)
So Stephen Flurry is aware that the Palestinians of Silwan think archaeology has been politicized. And being aware of this fear among Palestinians PCG nevertheless helps with an archaeological dig in this area.

60 Minutes Report on Elad (2010)

Back in October 2010 CBS's news program, 60 Minutes, made a report, Jerusalem: City of David, concerning Elad, this religious right wing organization in Israel. It points out that Elad is promoting Israeli Jewish settlers to move into Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian inhabited suburb of East Jerusalem.

Soon afterwards Joel Hilliker felt compelled to respond by making a little article about the 60 Minutes report. He links to the 60 Minutes report. He also links to responses by a pro-Israel organization. (Joel Hilliker, Video: City of David Dig Stirs Controversy, October 18, 2010.)

Elad Director Driving into Palestinian Boys

About 7 minutes 45 seconds into the report there is shocking footage of a driver, who happened to be the director of Elad, running into two young Palestinian boys with a car (7:45-8:13). No doubt being in a situation in which there are boys who might throw rocks at your car would be stressful. But to smash into two boys the way he did and consequently breaking the leg of one of them is terrible. It is disturbing footage seeing that car speed up and hit those little boys.

Joel Hilliker feels he needs to respond to it. So what does he do? He links to an article by some pro-Israel organization which insinuates that the hit and run incident was somehow staged, a collusion between reporters and stone throwers. The photographers caused it by being there, in is insinuated. No evidence is provided for this assertion. No connection is shown. It is merely assumed. Other events are mentioned which had no direct link to this incident. Events colored in a bad light with no proof behind it.

That perhaps the Elad director made a bad decision at that particular time in this unfortunate incident is never even presented as a possibility.

 Stephen Flurry's Narrow Response

A few days later Stephen Flurry wrote an article about this 60 Minutes report he chooses to respond to the assertion that Israeli soldiers visiting the City of David tourist archaeological site operated by Elad.
While visiting the City of David, CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl seemed bothered by the large number of Israeli soldiers who visit the park.

“It’s part of their cultural day to try to learn about what they’re fighting for,” explained Doron Spielman, the site’s international director of development.

But Stahl doesn’t see it that way at all. She accused Israel of using the archaeology site as a political tool to indoctrinate its soldiers. There is an “implicit message” in what tour guides tell the many thousands of visitors, Stahl explained—“that because David conquered the city for the Jews back then, Jerusalem belongs to the Jews today.”

Of course, there is nothing implied or sneaky about the way Jews explain their own history.(Stephen Flurry, CBS: ‘No Evidence’ of King David in Jerusalem, October 22, 2010.)
For the purpose of this post I am not interested in how Israeli soldiers are connected to this topic. Here the main topic is about the people living in Silwan today.

But what's amazing is what is not mentioned about that report.

Demolitions? What Demolitions?

Another aspect of the 60 Minutes report not mentioned is how it discusses plans regarding the creation of an archaeology theme park that requires the demolition of Palestinian homes in Silwan. As may be seen above these plans date back to 2005 at least. (PCG did mention this elsewhere but not in direct connection with the 60 Minutes report.) The CBS reporter interviews the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, and brings up the fact that homes will be demolished to build this park. The mayor then tries to insinuates that no house will be demolished, then the next moment saying that those people will be moved to better locations so it is not a demolition.
LESLEY STAHL: I heard you wanted to evict people. Where are those houses?

NIR BARKAT: That's just not true.

STAHL: Well, if you make a park then those houses can't be there anymore.

BARKAT: They musn't have been there in the first place.

STAHL: So you will evict. You will evict.

BARKAT: Not evict. When you improve their quality of life the right word to say is that you're dealing with improvement of quality of life. (Source.)
At least when Brad MacDonald talked about this topic he never insinuated that there would be no demolition. He did denigrate the Palestinians of Silwan as living in a slum and venomously (and absurdly) accused them of being part of some hostile conspiracy by the surrounding Arabs and Iran to spite the State of Israel by just staying in their homes. And MacDonald did minimize these demolitions by saying those Palestinians would be compensated. But even he never denied, or even seemed to deny, that those homes were to be demolished. 

The Shadow of Demolition

But while PCG's Brad MacDonald was willing to speak out in support of the demolition of 88 Palestinian homes in Silwan (while saying the dwellings were illegal and that those Palestinians would be compensated) it worth mentioning that those 88 Palestinian homes are far from the only homes facing the prospect of demolition.

Here is what Dr. Yonatan Mizrachi, the Jewish archaeologist cited above in the 2008 article, had to say about the situation in Silwan today. It seems that things are not going well for the Palestinians trying to stay in their homes in Silwan.
After seven years of activism and struggle in Silwan, the settlers are winning — big time. The biggest losers so far are the Palestinian residents, and especially those activists standing front and center in the struggle for their homes and identity. Seven years of struggle and Silwan’s residents can’t claim even one tangible and clear victory. Not one home has been returned to its original residents, not one settler has left Silwan and the “City of David” archaeological site is only becoming a stronger national tourism destination. More so, among the Palestinians, some of them lost their homes, some have been persecuted and arrested by the police based on various accusations, some of them have lost their sources of income and some have been physically harmed. Some of them have been harmed in more ways than one. But the common denominator among everyone is the feeling — or maybe the knowledge — that they are still being oppressed by the authorities and the settlers.
The struggles in Silwan take place in very low resolution: every house, street, archeological excavation or tunnel dug is part of the political battle and affects the residents’ lives. It’s very difficult to understand the political significance of every action or project like this. But when you connect all of the various dots in Silwan it becomes clear that it’s all related. The houses, the excavations and the tunnels are part of one goal: building the Israeli “City of David” in place of Palestinian Silwan. It appears that the difficulty in grasping the details permits the settlers to continue advancing their various plans and to claim that the efforts and goals are not one and the same. (Yonatan Mizrachi, In Silwan, the settlers are winning - big time, +972, October 1, 2014.)
Some of these Palestinians of Silwan have lost their homes and their sources of income because of these hardliner settlers supported by Elad. Consequently even if the archaeological digs PCG is associated with has nothing to do with Elad it nevertheless inflames this tense situation.

Here is another account of the situation in Silwan.
Silwan is located adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem, just a short walk from the Dung Gate. Like other neighbourhoods of Palestinian East Jerusalem along with the city of Hebron, the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills, Silwan has undergone an accelerated process of ethnic cleansing and influx of Israeli settlers over recent years. Two neighbourhoods within Silwan have been targeted - Wadi Hilweh, called City of David by Israelis, and al-Bustan. In both neighbourhoods the process has been headed by a settler organization, Elad, working in association with the Israel Nature and National Parks Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality. Using various legal pretexts including an Israeli law that allows for the demolition of any building thought to be covering up archaeological evidence of Jewish history, significant tracts of land have been acquired and properties demolished in order to proceed with the construction of an archaeological park/tourist attraction designated the 'Garden of the King'. [Footnote: For an authoritative analysis of this process, see Meron Rapaport, Shady dealings in Silwan. Jerusalem: Ir Amim, 2009.] The result of such a process has been predictable - a sustained conflict characterised by repeated clashes between locals and settlers and Israeli security forces. It is perhaps the most unstable flash-point of the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict given the dire situation of Silwan's residents and its proximity to the Holy sites within the Old City itself. (Marwan Darweish and Andrew Rigby, Popular Protest in Palestine, 2015, Chapter 5.)
And PCG thinks it is a good idea to send their members to an archaeological dig located near the suburb that may be " the most unstable flash-point of the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict"?

The Plight of Palestinians in Silwan

The following is from a report last year about the situation in Silwan after Israeli settlers moved into seven homes in East Jerusalem in September last year. At least one home belonged to a family that suddenly found themselves bereft of their own home.
In the building’s internal stairwell that connects the apartments, sits Bushra Hayat, whose eyes are dashing back and forth tracking the police officers walking into the apartment that until yesterday was hers. “We have two apartments here, one that my father rents out and we live in the other one. The two apartments were empty yesterday. My father wasn’t here and I slept at my uncle’s house, here, downstairs. They knew ahead of time when the houses would be empty and that’s why they came [now].” ...

Inside the building, Bushra is going up and down the stairs, making her way in between the police officers, trying to steal another glance into the apartment in which settlers are now holed up. Earlier she broke a side window and now through it she can see that the new tenants have already managed to tear down one of the walls. They’ve also already put bars on the outside windows — efficient. All the while, she’s trying to find out how her diabetic father is doing; his condition deteriorated after clashing with the police and he is now in the hospital. “He arrived early in the morning, when he heard. When he got here, they had already changed the locks and he wasn’t able to open the door to the house. I wasn’t able to with my key either.”

“They say that they bought the house,” she continues,” but they haven’t shown us any documents. We asked them — I yelled at them to show us a purchase contract, but they didn’t show us anything.”...
An hour later, Bushra takes advantage of the police officers’ lunch break in order to once again try and go see what’s happening inside the house. “I can’t stand it,” she says, choking up. “They’re sleeping in my bed right now. All of our things are still there. All of the furniture, our clothes, everything. Even my baby brother’s diapers.” (Orly Noy, Settlers take over 7 E. Jerusalem homes in dead of night, +972, September 30, 2014.)
Elad is a part of all this.
In many ways, the settlement in Silwan is considered to be the flagship of the the East Jerusalem settlements, particularly because of its location — nearly touching the Old City’s walls — a short walk from the Dung Gate. The goal is clear: changing the neighborhood’s national (religious demographic) character, first into a mixed Israeli-Palestinian neighborhood, but with aspirations to paint as much land as possible in blue and white.

This project, in which the central player is a settler NGO called Elad, is taking place on two parallel tracks: the first track is taking over public spaces like the City of David National Park run by Elad; the second is by taking over private homes. Some of the homes are handed over to the settlers who claim they have purchased them, and others are taken with the help of official Israel using the Absentee Property Law, despite the fact that a number of attorneys general have been highly critical of the law’s use in Jerusalem. (Orly Noy, Settlers take over 7 E. Jerusalem homes in dead of night, +972, September 30, 2014.)
Imagine that: Sleeping in a relative's place and waking up to discover your home has been taken over by these settlers backed up by police personnel. All your property is still in there and you do not know how you can get your own property back. You question them whether your home has been legally bought and they will not even give you an answer.

And just imagine: PCG claimed that these desperate people who yearn to live in their own homes are part of some sinister conspiracy by Arabs and Iran to spite the State of Israel. Such things are said so that we are blinded to the plight of a Palestinian woman who wakes up to her home and the property in her own home suddenly taken away from her.

Recently a mosque and even a football field in Silwan have been ordered to be demolished.
Israeli municipality officials delivered a demolition order Friday to the al-Qaaqaa Mosque, a house, and a studio apartment in the Silwan neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, local sources told Ma'an. ...

The mosque, built three years ago, is a 110 square meter space that serves 5,000 worshipers. ...

A demolition order was also delivered to a home housing six people.

Earlier this week an Israeli court ruled to demolish a football field and its facilities in Silwan, a local committee said.

The ruling includes the demolition of a 1.5 dunam (.4 acre) sports field as well as a neighboring warehouse and animal shed. (Israel issues demolition order for mosque in East Jerusalem, Ma'an News, August 22, 2015.)
It is the ever present threat of demolitions that causes the Palestinians of Silwan to protest in order to protect themselves from being kicked out of their homes. The Palestinians are there in Silwan. They want to stay in their own homes.

But these hardliners in Elad have used archaeology to shift peoples' focus away from the Palestinians in Silwan and to promote moving settlers into Silwan seemingly with no regard of how this harms relations between Palestinians and Israelis. This connection is highlighted in the following article by Natasha Roth, a Jewish reporter.
The key player in this situation — aside from the government — is the settler group Elad, also behind such activities as taking over Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, and hiring ‘caretakers’ (job requirements: gun ownership) to ‘look after’ empty Palestinian homes earmarked for settlers. The connections between Elad — an organization with a clearly-stated objective of “Judaizing” East Jerusalem — and the government are well-known; specifically, the cooperation of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) with the group has led to the increasing relinquishment of archaeology as an academic pursuit to the organization’s ideological goals. The modus operandi of Elad perfectly encompasses the modern outcomes of archaeology in Israel.
The establishment of the City of David national park and visitors’ center in Silwan is a salient example: the attractive entrance, dulcet music, portentous signs pointing out the area’s Biblical heritage, and the always-reassuring presence of a well-appointed gift shop have an anaesthetizing effect on visitors, and put up a highly-effective smokescreen in front of the reality of the Palestinian connection to (and presence in) the area. (Natasha Roth, Parks and Occupation: Archaeology is the new security, +972, March 7, 2015.)
Keep looking at those Jewish artifacts. Don't look at those Palestinians of Silwan who fear waking up one day to find their home taken over by hardliner settlers.

New York Times Report on Elad (1998)

Elad has been engaged in moving settlers into Silwan for a long time. Here is one report of these happenings from The New York Times dating back from 1998.
JERUSALEM, June 8— Expanding their foothold in East Jerusalem, Jewish settlers moved into four homes in an Arab neighborhood early this morning, setting off a violent confrontation and heightening tension in an area claimed by Israelis and Palestinians.

Acting under cover of darkness, members of the settlement group Elad entered homes that they said they had acquired in Silwan, a village outside Jerusalem's walled Old City. They removed furniture, spread coils of barbed wire and raised Israeli flags. 

''Our aim is to Judaize East Jerusalem,'' declared Yigal Kaufman, a spokesman for Elad, which has bought properties and moved Jews into Silwan in recent years, sometimes displacing Arab tenants. 

''The City of David is the most ancient core of Jerusalem, and we want it to become a Jewish neighborhood,'' Mr. Kaufman added, using the biblical name for the Silwan area, which was the site of the Israelite city of Jerusalem ruled by King David. 

A clash broke out at one house when a group of Palestinians arrived with Israeli peace advocates and removed barbed wire. Witnesses said that settlers had lashed out with sticks and that the Palestinians had thrown stones. Two settlers were assaulted, and Faisal Husseini, a Palestinian cabinet member responsible for Jerusalem affairs, was slightly hurt. Israeli protesters from the Peace Now movement were forcibly evicted by police officers. ...

Elad says it has moved 17 Jewish families into seven housing compounds in Silwan in recent years [before 1998], and has already acquired additional properties there. (Joel Greenburg, Settlers Move Into 4 Homes in East Jerusalem, New York Times, June 9, 1998.)
Let us take note of those Peace Now protesters who were "forcibly evicted" by police officers. Clearly many Israelis of good conscience see that this is not good and wish to live in peace with the Palestinians, even participating in their protests with them. Many Israeli Jews do not approve of what Elad doing there. Some of them even joining in protests and standing with the Palestinians of Silwan against Elad.

At least those settlers bothered to move the furniture out back in 1998. They seem to have lost even that consideration over the years.

The Situation Today

Just a few days ago another twenty settlers moved into Silwan. They seem to be affiliated with another settler organization.  
A group of Israeli settlers moved into an apartment building in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Thursday.

The group of at least 20 belongs to the Ateret Cohanim settler organization, which purchases properties in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and has taken legal action in order to evict the Palestinian owners of those buildings. (Settlers take over East Jerusalem home in the dead of night, +972, August 28, 2015.)
Clearly this tense situation is not going to go away anytime soon.

We Deserve to Know the Truth

Elad has politicized archaeology in order to move settlers into Silwan causing all kinds of tension within East Jerusalem. The Palestinians of Silwan fear they will lose their homes and protest against this situation. Israeli Jews who yearn for peace oppose these measures by Elad. This is the dark side of politicized archaeology in East Jerusalem today. This is the heated political situation that PCG have carelessly moved into with their archaeology digs.

Even if the archaeological digs PCG is associated with has nothing to do with Elad it nevertheless inflames this tense situation.

Why on Earth does PCG think it is a good idea to get involved in archaeology in the Holy Land? How does this contribute to peace?

PCG should get out of this archaeology arrangement. Armstrongism has already caused enough trouble in the Holy Land already.

Further Resources

Joel Greenburg, Settlers Move Into 4 Homes in East Jerusalem, New York Times, June 9, 1998.

Meron Rapaport, Shady Dealings in Silwan, Ir Amim, 2009.

60 Minutes, Jerusalem: City of David, 2010.

Orly Noy, Settlers take over 7 E. Jerusalem homes in dead of night, +972, September 30, 2014.

Yonatan Mizrachi, In Silwan, the settlers are winning - big time, +972, October 1, 2014.

Vice News, A City Divided: Jerusalem's Most Contested Neighborhood, January 2, 2015.

Natasha Roth, Parks and Occupation: Archaeology is the new security, +972, March 7, 2015.

Marwan Darweish and Andrew Rigby, Popular Protest in Palestine, 2015.

Israel issues demolition order for mosque in East Jerusalem, Ma'an News, August 22, 2015.

Settlers take over East Jerusalem home in the dead of night, +972, August 28, 2015.

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