Ir David Foundation
Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad [El'ad] (Hebrew: אלע"ד, an acronym for "אל עיר דוד", meaning "to the City of David") is a Jerusalem-based, Israeli association which aims to strengthen the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, create a Jewish majority in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and renew the Jewish community in the City of David, which is part of the village of Silwan. The foundation works to achieve its goals by tourism, education, archaeological excavations and obtaining homes in the area to establish a Jewish presence. Its excavation practices have been criticized by one of the most productive archeological researchers in Jerusalem as violating normal scientific procedures. Elad is accused of Judaization of East Jerusalem through eviction of Palestinians, changing the character of the city and promoting its own historic view, by legal and illegal means.
"Ir David" - or the City of David is the name given to a site beyond the southern edge of Jerusalem's Temple Mount and Old City, with the Tyropoeon Valley on its west, the Hinnom valley to the south, and the Kidron Valley on the east. Modern Jewish settlement on the ridge began in the City of David began in 1873-1874, when the Meyuchas family, a Jewish rabbinical and merchant family that had lived in Jerusalem since their expulsion from Spain, moved a short distance outside the city walls to a house in the area. With the outbreak of 1936 riots Jews were advised by the British authorities to leave the area since they could no guarantee their safety. The foundation was founded in 1986 by David Be’eri a former deputy commander of Duvdevan Unit, with the intention to purchase the former Meyuchas family home and other properties in the city. In 1986 they were granted the authority to work on behalf of the Jewish National Fund to reclaim land in the area. For a long time, Elad refused to provide the names of its funders and when they did they request successfully that the names be kept under privilege.
While the archaeological sites are clearly from at least the Second Temple Period, there is no clear evidence of the presence of King David or Solomon at the site. However, much of the narrative in Samuel and Kings I is consistent with the archaeologic discoveries, including the water shaft through which David's troops are described scaling when they entered the city and captured it from the Jebusites. The oldest archaeologic finds to date are clay document seals or bullae, containing the names of Gedaliah ben Pashur and Yehuchal ben Shelemayahu . Both names appear in the Book of Jeremiah (38:1). The two men were ministers in the court of King Zedekiah, the last king to rule in Jerusalem before the destruction of the First Temple.
To expand tourist activity, the foundation created a massive marketing campaign which led to a sharp increase in the number of visitors in recent years. In 2001 the foundation had only 25,000 visitors, but 250,000 in 2006 and 350,000 in 2007. In a program called "Ancient Jerusalem", they bring visitors to the three sites of Biblical Jerusalem, the City of David, Armon HaNetziv and the Mount of Olives. There were 450,000 visitors in 2011.
Ir David invests considerable resources in education and strengthening ties to Jerusalem, and increasing the knowledge of and research of Ancient Jerusalem. In association with the IDF, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and Yad Ben Zvi, the foundation gives day tours of Jerusalem to soldiers, with an emphasis on sites connected to Jewish heritage and Zionism. The association operates weekends and seminars on leadership and Zionism among the officers, held at various tourist sites in Ancient Jerusalem. The association also works in conjunction with Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth movement, giving visitors educational tours.
In 2001, the foundation established the Megalim Institute dedicated to expanding knowledge of Jerusalem in the fields of history, archaeology and the Bible. The Institute teaches academics both in Israel and internationally through courses, seminars and tours. Every year the Institute hosts the 'City of David Archaeological Conference', where excavators and researchers present the latest innovations in the study of Jerusalem. Megalim Institute also publishes various books and publications in areas relevant to historical research.
Ir David Foundation funds most of the archaeological excavations conducted in recent years in the City of David and the surrounding areas. All excavations are conducted by the Antiquities Authority, or with their approval. Unfortunately the tours led by Elad settlers are not always in line with the sound conclusions of the Antiquities Authority. Among the many excavation sites the association found in 2005 the "true" Pool of Siloam 200 meters from another "Pool of Siloam" which was a fifth-century reconstruction  and the road that connected the Spring to the Temple. The pool was used as Mikveh for ritual purification performed before visiting the Temple.
In December 2008 excavations funded by the foundation found a large hoard of over 250 gold coins, dated to around the seventh century near the end of the Byzantine period. A clay seal bearing the name of Gedaliah son of Pashhur was also found. His name is explicitly mentioned in the bible (Book of Jeremiah (38:1)). The Foundation also funded excavation of a house the archaeologists suspect belonged to Helena of Adiabene, a fourth-century mansion, and an ancient water tunnel.
Ir David purchases houses in Silwan and rents them to Jewish families. According to the foundation some houses in Silwan were originally owned by Jews before the establishment of the state, representing the Jewish settlement of Kfar Shiloah, established for immigrants from Yemen in the late 19th century. With the outbreak of 1936 riots Jewish settlement in the city of David was eradicated, Jewish property looted, and the houses seized by Arabs, some of whom live in these homes today. As of 2009, 75 Jewish families live in properties owned by the Association.
The Ir David foundation acquires property in the city of David and surroundings in one of four ways:
- Locating assets belonging to Jews in the city of David and seeking legal action to return them to the original owner.
- Buying properties declared absentee property. According to Haaretz Elad took control over properties making a very dubious use of the Israeli 'Absentees Property Law'
- Persuading Arab resident to voluntarily sell their homes to Jews.
- Construction of new neighbourhoods in the area also known as Israeli settlements.
The foundation endeavours to buy up property from Muslims in the area, but the acquisition of houses is complex, since under Waqf law, Muslims are not permitted to sell their land to Jews, since the lands they dwell on belongs to God. Elad employs Muslim middle men as brokers to bypass the Waqf rules and to purchase the properties.
Critics on archaeology
In 1997 the organisation was sued by the Israeli state for damaging archaeological remains and for building on a historic site without a permit, and the Israel Antiquities Authority strongly recommended that the upkeep and control of the archaeological sites not be handed over to the organisation. In 1998 a proposed contract to do this was annulled. However, in 2002 the contract was re-confirmed, this time without opposition from the IAA, and from that time the organisation has had responsibility for the preservation and maintenance of the City of David National Park.
In 1999 unauthorized construction on the Temple Mount by the Waqf resulted in trucks fulls of dirt filled with archaeological artifacts being dumped in Emek Tzurim. Bar Ilan University with funding by the Ir David Foundation and the National Parks Authority, organized the Temple Mount Sifting Project where volunteers and professionals recover these artifacts. Thousands of artifacts have been recovered including 3,500 ancient coins.
In 2011, a leading Israeli specialist on the archeology of Jerusalem, Dr. Eilat Mazar, who in the past collaborated with the Elad foundation, wrote a letter protesting the foundation's lack commitment to "scientific archeological work". In particular she expressed concerns over their intention to demolish a wall in a subterranean trench called "Jeremiah's Pit," which she regards as part of a tourist gimmick. The Antiquities Authority replied that she was only trying to appropriate the site for herself. Elad countered that her contract forbids her from complaining about future excavations.
Elad was blamed by Silwan residents when a channel dug for archaeological excavations partially collapsed in December 2011 near the village's mosque. The excavations were carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Elad.
Critics on evictions
Critics accuse the foundation of methodically moving of Jerusalem to "Judaicize" the city. The foundation claims its actions are legal under Israeli law, though this is highly disputed, see Silwan. In May 2009, Ir Amim wrote a critical report about the Judaization of Silwan.
In December 2011, joint activities between the Elad Association and the Jewish National Fund in Israel (JNF-KKL) led to Seth Morrison's resignation from the board of JNF-USA, the JNF's arm in the United States. Morrison resigned in protest at the decision by Himnuta, a subsidiary of JNF-KKL, to launch eviction proceedings against the Sumarin family, who lived in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. In the case of the Sumarin family, the children of the original owner, Musa Sumarin, were declared absentees after his death even though there were other family members living in the home at the time. In 1991, the Israeli government took the step of transferring the property to the JNF subsidiary. The action on the Sumarin home, he added in a letter to The Jewish Daily Forward, "is not an isolated case. JNF has gained ownership of other Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and, in many instances, then transferred these properties through its subsidiaries to Elad, a settler organization whose purpose is to “Judaize” East Jerusalem". Under Israel’s controversial Absentee Property Law, the state may reclaim homes whose owners were not present in 1967, when Israel took control of East Jerusalem. Morrison asserted that the expulsion of the Sumarin family is a violation of human rights, and part of the systematic transfer of Palestinian property to ideological settlers who wish to put facts on the ground that hinder a lasting peace agreement. A campaign against the eviction was launched by Rabbis for Human Rights and by the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, and in the United Kingdom by the Jewish organization Yachad. The pressures led the JNF to delay the eviction.
Ir Amim and others petitioned the High Court in July 2010, to cancel an agreement between the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and Elad because of secret transfer of authority to Elad, which would carry out a political agenda. The Court ordered some changes and a new three-year contract was signed.
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- Ir David Official Site
- The Story Behind the Tourist Site Criticism of Elad by the Silwan Information Center local protest group
- Archaeologist petition for control of the investigations to be taken away from Elad
- Digging for Trouble, Journeyman Pictures, via YouTube