On Sunday, June 30, Peace Now activists protested the inauguration of a new archeological tourist site dug under Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan. The site is a tunnel exposing an ancient pathway from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount and was purportedly used by Jews of antiquity ascending to the Temple. Titled the Pilgrimage Road, the project has been funded by the right-wing organization Elad, with generous state support. Peace Now however has dubbed it "the controversy tunnel," charging it has caused damage to Palestinian homes, forcing some evacuations, increased tensions between Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers in the neighbourhood, and is part of an effort to sabotage the two-state solution.
Israel's premier peace movement points out that, because of the strong national and religious ties to Jerusalem among both peoples, eventual settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require compromise over the city. International negotiating teams have agreed that Jerusalem would have to be shared, with Palestinian neighbourhoods part of a future Palestinian capital, the Israeli neighbourhoods part of the capital of Israel and the Old City and historical sites in its vicinity subject to special arrangements. But the Israeli government and the settler movement are vigorously undermining such a possibility through "Judaizing" Palestinian neighourhoods with Jewish-focused archeological and tourist projects, along with settler housing incursions. Pilgrimage Road is the latest manifestation of the scheme.
The inauguration ceremony itself was highly controversial as it included hands-on participation by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt. As part of the spectacle, Friedman swung a sledgehammer through the so-called "final wall" of the tunnel (it was actually a fake wall, a prop). The act seemed calculated to show contempt for the careful Jerusalem diplomacy of previous US regimes.
As Americans for Peace Now put it, Friedman's hammer blow signalled "the Trump administration's approval of perpetual Israeli control of East Jerusalem."
Ambassador Friedman himself reinforced this message when he said during the ceremony: "Whether there was ever any doubt about the accuracy, the wisdom, the propriety of President Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I certainly think this lays all doubts to rest."
In a media interview, Friedman went even further. When asked how this project, in one of the most contentious areas of the conflict, would impact a future peace deal, he said it would be unthinkable for for Israel to give up the City of David (site of the East Jerusalem archeological digs) even in the context of a peace agreement. To do so, he said, "would be akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty."
Says Peace Now: "The Trump team chooses to strengthen the hold of the settler fringe in the sensitive area of the Holy Basin instead of advancing a conflict-ending peace agreement."
The tunnel construction caused many cracks in Palestinian homes, some surfaces collapses and a municipal safety order for five Palestinian families to leave their homes. The project is also controversial among archeologists. Officials of the Israel Antiquities Authority have criticized the project, mainly because of its use of horizontal digging rather than by the traditional top-to-bottom, layer by layer method. The traditional technique enables the study of each time period revealed and the preservation of the evidence. The horizontal method disregards all layers and the full historical context.
Peace Now is continuing to protest. As Executive Director Shaqued Morag writes:
"It should be clear that the Trump and Netanyahu administrations are not striving in good faith to keep the promise of peace alive; they are pouring oil on the fire, trying to make a future two-state solution impossible."
"We will not let the ... far right turn East Jerusalem into an ideological Disneyland at the cost of dispossessing Palestinians of their homes and at the cost of perpetual conflict. We will not let the governments of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu quash the hope for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state agreement."
Experts to speak about the Silwan Tunnel
This week, Americans for Peace Now will host a highly informative briefing call, open to the public, about the Silwan tunnel and the Trump-Netanyahu Jerusalem policy. Speakers will be Hagit Ofran, co-director of Peace Now's Settlement Watch program, and Daniel Seidemann, an attorney and activist, specializing in legal and public issues in East Jerusalem. The call takes place this Thursday, July 11, 2 pm (EST). To join the call, dial 951-797-1058. At the prompt, key in the access code: 147414.
The call will be recorded and the recording made available on APN's web site. There are many other excellent podcasts on the APN site. Visit it at www.peacenow.org