Arab News Research and Studies Unit launches latest deep dive on Jerusalem

LONDON: For the past 20 years Israel’s government has collaborated with the country’s leading settler movement in a plot to appropriate land in East Jerusalem, with the aim of reestablishing the Biblical “City of David,” at the cost of Muslims and Christians alike, and sabotaging any hope of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The wealthy City of David Foundation, also known as Elad, has also been given virtual carte blanche by various government departments to develop biblically themed national parks surrounding Jerusalem’s Old City.

It has also embarked on a series of controversial archaeological projects designed to provide evidence that East Jerusalem is the site of the City of David, as mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

“What we are seeing is the establishment of a very specific, exclusionary, absolutist biblical narrative in and around the Old City, and the etching of that narrative physically into the landscape through archaeology, parks, and so on,” said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer and founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem. This is an Israeli NGO that works to track developments in Jerusalem that could impact either the political process or permanent-status options.

The aim was “the marginalization of Palestinian East Jerusalem, politically, geographically and economically, and the marginalization of the Christian presence in Jerusalem.”

Normally, the Christian presence in Jerusalem is never more apparent than during Holy Week, which began on Sunday — Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar — and culminates on Easter Sunday, March 31. Today is Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Christ, which they believe took place at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City’s Christian quarter.


Battleground: Jerusalem The biblical battle for the Holy City

But presiding over the celebrations at the church on Palm Sunday , Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, expressed his dismay that many parishioners and pilgrims had been unable to participate this year because of the war in Gaza, “which is so terrible and seems never-ending … and everything going on around us this year.”

The details of what Terrestrial Jerusalem describes as “the strategic encirclement of Jerusalem’s Old City” are revealed today in a special Deep Dive by the Arab News Research and Studies Unit.

The plot has been a long time in the planning. Speaking in June 1998 after Jewish settlers seized four homes in Silwan, Elad spokesman Yigal Kaufman said: “Our aim is to Judaize East Jerusalem. The City of David is the most ancient core of Jerusalem, and we want it to become a Jewish neighborhood.”

Last week Israel dealt a fresh blow to hopes of Palestinian statehood when it announced it was seizing 800 hectares of occupied Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley, a move condemned as illegal by numerous states and institutions from the European Union to the Arab League’s parliament.

The announcement, by Israel’s far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, was made last Friday as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv for talks on Gaza with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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