The City of David: a veil for ethnic cleansing.

David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister, said, “Jewish archaeology present-tenses our past and shows our historic continuity in the country.” His army’s legendary chief of staff, Yigael Yadin, became the country’s leading archaeologist, moving seamlessly from perpetrating the crime that was the Nakba to another form of erasure of the Palestinian presence in their land. This new erasure involves the excavation/invention of a past from which a whole people, the Palestinians, are systematically excluded. And nowhere is the politicised archaeology of the state of Israel more clearly on show than in East Jerusalem.

The City of David lies at the heart of this aspect of the Zionist project: developing a national cult of the heroic leader, attempting to treat the Bible as record of verifiable fact, building a money-spinning tourist attraction/brainwashing project and an excuse for yet more ethnic cleansing as Jerusalem is relentlessly Judaised.

And it’s all in aid of establishing that there really did exist in 10th century BCE a magnificent unified Kingdom centred on Jerusalem, led by David and his son Solomon, stretching from the Euphrates to the Naqab. In the Bible, David is a brilliant but flawed character:  king and musician, warrior and giant slayer, but something of an unprincipled womaniser, as the story of Bathsheba and her husband suggests.

 Nadav Na’aman of Tel Aviv University describes David’s legend as “extraordinary fiction.”

Israel Finkelstein, a giant of state archaeology advances another theory: David was indeed a leader, but a Bedouin sheikh leader, a nomadic king, not a palace dweller but a tent dweller, taking wealth from the ancient mines of Timna in the Arabah Valley.  “There’s almost nothing in Jerusalem; a very small village. An empire needs manpower. There’s nothing in Judah; a few small villages. An empire needs administration. There’s no administration. There’s no scribal activity. Where is the empire?”

In their book “The Bible Unearthed” Finkelstein and Silberman expound their theory of the historic origins and the political agenda of the Bible, the core of which they say was written in the 8th century BC. They characterise the stories of Moses, Joshua and David as narratives shaped by the politico-cultural context of the day, answering the need to legitimise the rule of Josiah.

In a neat irony, Biblical archaeology is now being used in a similar way and on equally slender evidence, to justify another type of nation building: the Zionist colonisation of Palestine. But as archaeologist Yuval Gadot said of 10th century BCE excavation artefacts: “I can take a shoebox and put inside everything we have from that period.”

However, scant evidence is no obstacle when ideology is in the driving seat. And Elad, or the Ir David Foundation, is the driving force behind the City of David, ably supported by the JNF.

In the early 90’s this (then marginal) organisation began to seize homes in Silwan, supported by JNF subsidiary Himn

uta. Any strategy would serve; threats, forged documents and, of course, the helpful Israeli state law, in particular the Absentee Property Law, ever ready to facilitate the eviction of Palestinians and supplant them with illegal Jewish settlers.

Since those early days, Elad has galloped ahead, been given “legal” ownership of a quarter of Silwan and awarded a contract to develop the City of David as a National Park. Ariel Sharon boosted their funding, followed by Netanyahu. Of course, wealthy donors like Roman Abramovich surreptitiously donate huge sums; in Abramovich’s case, $100 million through secretive funds.

Are they driven by love of archaeology, a deep commitment to the truth hidden beneath the soil? Of course not.

In conclusion, it must be clearly understood that the Jewish settlement on annexed or occupied land is illegal under international law. Israel’s perversion of archaeological scholarship is just another strand in the increasingly desperate quest to legitimise its “ownership” of Palestine and veil its crimes against Palestinians.