Digging underneath Silwan
Photo: Noam Moskowitz
Dr Yuval Baruch
Photo: Noam Moskowitz
Jerusalem police forces secured the Old City throughout Tuesday fearing the Israeli Antiquities Authority's announcement over the completion of a new tunnel seven years in the making, which will open up an underground passage directly underneath city walls, not far from Temple Mount, would cause riots. However, despite the tension at the Silwan neighborhood, the day went by without any irregular events.
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The new tunnel is actually a drainage canal dating back to the time of the Second Temple. It is 700 meters long (0.435 miles) and connects the City of David in Silwan to the Archaeological Park and Davidson Center in Jerusalem, near the Western Wall.
The canal, which was probably dug in the days of Herod, was exposed during the excavation headed by the Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and funded by the Elad Foundation. The canal passes underneath a main road and underneath Arab homes in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood.
Jerusalem District head archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Dr Yuval Baruch, explained that the canal is located right underneath an old street which was used by Jerusalem residents and pilgrims making their way to the Temple. The canal was used mainly for drainage. Baruch joked that despite limited means at the time, the canal was built "in less time than it took to build the light rail in Jerusalem."
The Antiquities Authority plans on opening the tunnel for visitors. According to Baruch they are "well aware of the sensitivity surrounding the digging, but with such an excavation we are exposing 3000 to 4000 years of history - and not just Jewish history."
Built faster than the light rail (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
However, Silwan residents are not happy about this historical discovery. They expressed their anger and frustration over the fact that the funding of the excavation originated from the Elad Foundation, a right wing organization, which they claim proves the dig was political and not historical.
According to a political activist in the neighborhood, some of the archeologists even receive their paycheck from the Elad Foundation, proving it's "a politically rightist interest."
Residents living above the canal claim the excavation is putting lives at risk. They showed Ynet the cracked walls around their homes and spoke of rooms which collapsed when the excavation began nearby.
One house owner said his son is suffering from a respiratory disorder which has gotten far worse after the digging began. He said the construction is "shaking the houses and causing large amounts of dust to scatter everywhere."
Silwan residents petitioned the High Court of Justice against the excavation and managed to halt all work in 2009 for six months. However when the court order expired, the High Court allowed work to continue and rejected the residents' claims, saying it is the public's right to expose its past.
Silwan residents believe the ruling was based on a false claim by the Antiquities Authority, according to which "this is not an excavation but a cleanup". According to the residents, the facts on the ground prove that the Antiquities Authority was using heavy machinery.
"The Antiquities Authority tells us the excavation is an important rescue mission, but what's reasonable about rescuing antiques while risking our lives?" said a neighborhood resident. "What kind of democracy allows someone to dig under your home without asking you about it. The law and the police are on their side, working like the mafia. They're trampling our rights."
The Antiquities Authority rejected all accusations and said the excavation was approved and the source of the cracks in the walls and potholes comes from illegal construction and sewage problems. They added that the excavation has nothing to do with the Temple Mount.
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