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The City of David and the problem with dividing Jerusalem

Archeological finds continue to debunk Palestinian attempts to deny Jewish history. Yet without the Jewish presence at the site, all these precious relics would be trashed.

A view of the archaeological digging site of the City of David near the Old City of Jerusalem on March 31, 2019. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.
A view of the archaeological digging site of the City of David near the Old City of Jerusalem on March 31, 2019. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Those who continue to deny the historical facts about Jewish Jerusalem got more bad news this week. Archeologists working at the City of David site in Jerusalem revealed some of their latest finds, among them was a bulla or small seal that can be dated to the sixth century B.C.E. and before the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple.

This particular item was found this past fall in the City of David, an area just outside the current Old City walls of Jerusalem, but which was the site of the biblical capital of the Kingdom of Judea. The seal bears an inscription that notes that it “belonged to Natan-Melech, eved haMelech” (“servant of the king”).

The significance of the small seal lies in the fact that its owner is mentioned in the Second Book of Kings as an official who worked in the service of King Josiah, who lived and died some 2,600 years ago. As such, it is one more in a growing list of evidence found in excavations at the City of David that offers proof that the stories told in the Bible of the Davidic kingdom are rooted in historical fact, not religious fiction.

This is important for two reasons.

One is that it debunks claims by Palestinians to deny Jewish history and the ties of the Jewish people to the country, and in particular, to Jerusalem.

Second, it puts into context the ongoing controversy over the excavations at the City of David and the right of Jews to move into the area.

As Bari Weiss noted in an even-handed feature published in the Sunday New York Times this past weekend, as far as the Palestinian Authority and local Arab residents are concerned, the archeologists are as unwelcome as the Jews who have come to live in this section of the ancient city.

While the significance of the treasures found there are undeniable, Israel’s critics consider the dig to be more about politics than history. By developing the site into a historical park, the City of David Foundation has been blasted as a settler group more intent on solidifying Israel’s hold on a section of the city that is not recognized as part of Israel by most of the world.

Like the Old City and the West Bank, Jordan illegally occupied the City of David site from 1948 to 1967. The Palestinian Arabs who live in the vicinity of the site consider Jews foreign interlopers, even though almost all of the property in the area is or was owned by Jews prior to the founding of the State of Israel. Though no one is chasing them out of their homes, they feel increasingly threatened by an influx of Jews into the neighborhood, now making up one-sixth of the local population, according to the Times. More than that, they bitterly resent the development of the archeological park, and consider the discoveries made there to be an insult to their belief that Jerusalem and all of its sacred sites are exclusively Arab.

Their fables about that attempt to treat the physical evidence of Jewish Jerusalem—like the Temple Mount itself and the Western Wall—as either fake or Islamic in nature have been encouraged by Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority.

Critics of the City of David Foundation are against its activities because they believe that the area should be part of a future Palestinian state. They say that the development of the site and the digs are part of an effort to prevent the redivision of Jerusalem that will enable the Palestinian Authority to put its capital in the city.

Many Israelis still believe in principle in the idea of a two-state solution, though not nearly as many as in the past because of the lack of a credible Palestinian peace partner. But the effort to delegitimize the work at the City of David points to a basic problem with the concept when applied to a sensitive site. If you’re going to deny Jewish rights to the place where King David and his descendants ruled their ancient kingdom, then you can deny them anyplace in the country. And that is what Palestinians have continued to do. Their effort to treat the City of David or even the Western Wall as linked to Jewish myths rather than the beginning of Jewish civilization is inextricably linked to their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn.

Nor can it be argued that in a two-state solution, the Palestinians could be trusted to safeguard historical sites such as these.

Just this week, evidence surfaced of ancient tombs in the Jericho area—territory that is governed by the Palestinian Authority—being looted by local Arabs. This is a commonplace occurrence throughout the territories; the region’s ancient Jewish heritage is being systematically destroyed by those out to make a profit or whose main goal is to eradicate the abundant evidence of the ancient Jewish ties to this land.

Indeed, there is no better example of such vandalism than the Temple Mount itself, where the Muslim Waqf, which administers the site, has trashed archeological evidence on a massive scale. We know the extent of the damage because of the volunteers who sift through the detritus from their work on the site and have discovered many important archeological finds that point to the Mount’s Jewish origins wantonly thrown out as trash.

The only way to protect the heritage of the City of David is to ensure that it and the rest of Jerusalem remains under undivided Israeli authority with the right of Jews to live in their ancient capital undiminished. Any other solution isn’t a path to peace, but something that will only further encourage the history deniers of the Palestinian Authority to keep fighting their war on Jewish history.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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