The Pilgrimage Road Excavation, Which Has Already Uncovered Much about Jerusalem’s History, Is No Threat to Arab Jerusalemites or to the al-Aqsa Mosque

July 12, 2019 | Nadav Shragai
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On June 30, David Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, participated in a ceremony inaugurating an archaeological dig into an ancient road used by pilgrims visiting the Second Temple in Roman times. A New York Times article on the subject credulously reported that “Palestinians in the crowded East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan have complained that the walls of their homes were settling and cracking” because of prior excavations. This accusation has little basis, writes Nadav Shragai:

Over the years, hundreds of Silwan residents took part in the archaeological digs of the Israel Antiquities Authority. . . . More than once the digging was done below the houses of these same Arab workers. They would have kept working there until this very day had they not been threatened with violence by emissaries of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in eastern Jerusalem. These threats forced them to leave their work.

Political opponents of the archaeological excavations in the City of David [as this ancient area of the city is known], which have been conducted for almost 50 years, try every few years to impede the work of the Antiquities Authority, often resorting to legal proceedings. Once or twice they have even gotten as far as the Supreme Court, whose justices . . . looked into their allegations and rejected them.

Entirely baseless as well is the claim made by some Palestinians that archaeologists are digging underneath the al-Aqsa mosque. Shragai goes on to explain the history of these excavations and their important discoveries:

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority, closely supervised by safety engineers (in line with the world’s strictest standards), have been searching for or excavating the Pilgrimage Road—mistakenly known as the Herodian Road—only since the beginning of the 2000s. But they and the Antiquities Authority are not the first to look for this road or excavate it. They were preceded in the period of Jordanian rule by the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who uncovered the more northern parts of the Pilgrimage Road and also warned that the City of David should be excavated hastily before the Jordanians paved a road there—which is indeed what they eventually did.

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