When United States Ambassador David Friedman struck an underground wall in East Jerusalem with a sledgehammer last June, little did he know he was single-handedly starting World War iii.
“Trump’s Envoys Take a Hammer to Mideast Peace,” cried the Washington Post. “With His Hammer, Friedman Smashed U.S. Status as Fair Mediator in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” decried Haaretz. The New York Times’ headline read, “U.S. Envoy Swings Sledgehammer in East Jerusalem, and a Metaphor Is Born.”
As it turns out, the wall Mr. Friedman bashed was a fake, built only a few days earlier. It had been constructed by the City of David Foundation (Elad) as part of the opening ceremony of a new archaeological site in the City of David. America’s ambassador had been invited to the ceremony, where, instead of cutting a ribbon, he opened the new tourist park by doing something more akin to archaeological work.
For many, the video of Donald Trump’s ambassador visiting East Jerusalem and demolishing what could be a Palestinian home was an opportunity too good to ignore. To these people the story was obvious: President Trump’s racist administration was working with an ultra-Zionist, far-right Jewish settler organization to oppress Palestinians and demolish Palestinian statehood.
Blinded by bias, many in the media overlooked the real story, which was genuinely important: The City of David Foundation, after enormous investment and years of meticulous engineering and excavation, had uncovered part of a 2,000-year-old road that connected the Siloam Pool to the Temple Mount. Called “Pilgrim’s Road,” this impeccably crafted stone path was the main thoroughfare used by Jerusalemites and pilgrims 2,000 years ago to travel to the temple from the ritual cleaning pool. Jesus Christ walked on these stones.
This is a remarkable discovery. Ambassador Friedman explained its importance to Jews and Christians alike. “The pilgrimage road and the Breikhat HaShiloah, the Pool of Siloam, really enables us to do something which is so hard to do,” he said. It allows us to “go back in time. To go back into history. It brings the Bible to life” (emphasis added throughout).
The Bible is fundamental to the identity and faith of both Jews and Christians. It is the seminal work underpinning Judeo-Christian society. Even today, the Bible is the world’s most popular book. Pilgrim’s Road “brings the Bible to life” for literally millions of people around the world.
But rather than focus on this astonishing archaeological discovery (not to mention the incredible feat of engineering), many exploited the occasion to advance a political agenda. Rather than commend, they criticized. Instead of reporting objectively and telling the whole story, many simply attacked Israel.
Sadly, this is not surprising. With archaeology in the Jewish state, especially in Jerusalem, this happens often. New discoveries are routinely reported through a political prism that is nearly always biased against Israel. The ultimate victim here is Israel’s biblical history and our access to it. Many remarkable, biblically significant discoveries—and, more importantly, the messages these ruins and artifacts carry—are overlooked and ignored.
This is tragic, not just for Jews and Israel, but for all humanity. Jerusalem’s ancient history is important to all of us.
Sorting Fact From Fiction
The City of David is a roughly 20-acre patch of land situated along a ridge adjacent south of the Temple Mount. Many visitors don’t know it, but it is the oldest part of Jerusalem. The City of David revolves around the Gihon Spring, Jerusalem’s perennial water source. Archaeological evidence shows human activity in the area of the Gihon as early as 2000 b.c.e.
For those seeking to understand ancient and biblical Jerusalem, the City of David is where it all began. Abraham, David, Solomon, the Jewish prophets, the first and second temples—each of these towering biblical figures and stories is central to Judeo-Christian history and theology. And all these epic accounts unfolded in and around the City of David.
Today the City of David falls within the borders of East Jerusalem, on land that was controlled by Jordan from 1948 to June 1967. It sits in the densely populated Arab neighborhood of Silwan and is part of the territory many believe and hope will be included in a future Palestinian state.
The tension surrounding the City of David turns on one basic question: How can the past be reconciled with the present and future?
To many, the answer is simple: Israel is an apartheid state, and all Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, especially in East Jerusalem, are illegal. Israel must not be allowed to resurrect and preserve its ancient history, since this only undermines the Palestinian claims on Jerusalem.
But in a city as old as Jerusalem, nothing is this simple. For example, while the City of David today is situated in an Arab neighborhood, it wasn’t always this way. Photographs of the ridge taken in the early 20th-century show only a handful of dwellings. Photos from the 1970s show the area was still largely uninhabited. The truth is, the majority of the buildings in Silwan were constructed in the 1980s and onwards, and many without approval.
It is also important to note that Silwan has been an important archaeological site for almost 150 years. This isn’t surprising, considering the extraordinary history beneath the soil. Nevertheless, it is a reality few consider when conversing on this issue. Today only Israeli archaeologists dig in the City of David. Before them, however, this land was the laboratory of prominent archaeologists from France, America, Germany and Great Britain. The first known excavation was conducted by Britain’s Charles Warren in 1867.
Archaeology was practiced in the City of David long before 1967, long before the arrival of major Arab settlements, and long before the arrival of Elad. The motivation these 19th-century British, French and German archaeologists had to dig here wasn’t political: They recognized the centrality of this land to the Bible and to Western civilization. They wanted to understand the ancient past.
No one denies that the politics of the City of David are delicate. Jews and Christians seeking to better understand ancient Jerusalem want to resurrect and preserve the ruins on this hill—yet, though most of its structures are relatively new, Silwan is today a densely populated Arab village. What to do?
For many journalists and politicians, the answer is, again, simple: Any effort by Israel to restore its history must be reported as an attack on the Palestinians. New discoveries, no matter how culturally and historically valuable, must be ignored or maligned. Some journalists even repackage the evidence as a sign of Israel’s hatred of Palestinians.
Many developments in the City of David are reported as little more than Jewish sleight of hand. This effort is made easier by the area being largely controlled by the City of David Foundation (Elad), a Zionist organization that funds excavations, operates the tourist center, and occasionally purchases Arab properties.
However, though it is routinely demonized, Elad is not doing anything illegal or immoral. It is privately owned, but it operates similarly to the National Trust in the United Kingdom, the Department of the Interior in America, or many museums around the world. Its main objective is to uncover, preserve and share Jewish history, not with Jews only, but with people of all races and religions. When you visit the City of David one hears languages and accents from the four corners of the Earth.
Caught in the crossfire are the archaeologists, individuals like Dr. Eilat Mazar, Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron, to name a few. These people are scientists, not activists. They maintain their independence through the academic institutions they represent, but they are often falsely portrayed as foot soldiers in the battle for the City of David.
One respected archaeologist who has excavated in the City of David told Watch Jerusalem recently that digging in this area is now so dangerous to one’s reputation and career that many archaeologists no longer want to excavate ancient Jerusalem. To Jews, Christians and others interested in the ancient history contained here, this is disheartening. Yet it no doubt pleases Israel’s detractors.
Israel Bad, Palestinians Good
The cover story of the December 2019 issue of National Geographic is an apt example of the prejudiced reporting now so routine. Its title, “Under Jerusalem: New Excavations Reveal the Ancient City—and Stoke Modern Tensions,” is a bit misleading, since there is little about the ancient city and much about the “modern tensions.”
This article perfunctorily recites a handful of archaeological discoveries in the City of David, including what the author insolently terms the “putative palace of King David.” There is no mention of the massive walls of King Solomon’s palace or the bulla of King Hezekiah. Nothing is said of the recent discovery of the bulla of Isaiah, or the bullae of the Judean princes mentioned by name in Jeremiah 37. Not a word is written about Nehemiah’s wall.
These are despicable omissions. These ruins and artifacts, and the biblical history they resurrect, are the reason Jewish archaeologists dig in the City of David. These artifacts explain why Israel and Elad, invest so heavily in this area. They reveal the priceless value of excavating here, not just to Jews or Christians, but to all humanity.
These relics prove that the City of David is the crucible of Jewish and Christian history, and therefore indispensable to Jewish identity. Yet, this article did not feature any of them.
The author has no quarrel with the science, and even concedes that there “is no doubt that Israeli archaeologists are among the best trained in the world.” But these brilliant scientists, he says, are merely soldiers in a political battle. “Yet there’s also no doubt that archaeology is wielded as a political weapon in the Arab-Israeli conflict, with Israelis having the edge since they control all excavation permits in and around Jerusalem.”
In a way, he is right. Archaeology today is brandished as a political weapon in the Arab-Israeli conflict. But Israel’s archaeologists are not the ones weaponizing it. The author presents no evidence of Israeli archaeologists, or even Jewish officials, using archaeology to harm Palestinians. The truth is that it is individuals like this author who wield archaeology as a “political weapon” to stoke tensions and conflict.
They do this when they divine motives that do not exist in Elad or the archaeologists—when they conjure emotive headlines designed to arouse frustration and hate—and when they refuse to report fairly and objectively on new discoveries and projects.
In March 2019, the New York Times published an article titled “Can an Archaeological Dig Change the Future of Jerusalem?” The lavishly photographed, delightfully written piece by Bari Weiss does a relatively good job of exploring the controversy. But it too is clearly biased against Israel.
To her credit, Weiss interviewed both Jewish and Arab residents of the City of David and presented both sides reasonably fairly. But by the end of the article, there is no doubt about which team Weiss supports. “There is a strong case to be made that the modern should always trump the ancient, even on an archaeological gold mine,” she concludes. “That the needs of people living in a particular spot in the here and now are far more important than uncovering the lives of those who once did.”
This sounds rational and wise. But the assertion that the “modern should always trump the ancient” and that the needs of Silwan’s Arabs “are far more important than uncovering the lives of those who once” lived in this area ought to be challenged. The ancient trumps the present all over the world; think of the great “heritage sites,” holy and historic, that are vigilantly protected by national and international laws. Places like Petra, the Great Wall of China, the Acropolis of Athens and “heritage sites” in London and Washington, D.C., Western governments the world over have legislation, even entire departments sustained by millions in funding, established to restore, preserve and protect the ancient past.
Why is Israel not allowed to do the same? The City of David contains ruins and artifacts up to 4,000 years old—among the oldest in the world, and far more ancient than any relic dutifully preserved in America. These ruins and artifacts obviously embody the vast history of the Jewish people.
But the history buried beneath the City of David is not just Jewish. The history of America and Britain is also buried in the City of David. The origins of our Judeo-Christian culture and theology are buried here. In fact, the history of Western civilization can be traced back to this narrow ridge—making the City of David valuable to humanity!
Weiss also suggests archaeology in the City of David is a zero-sum game; that digging in this area inevitably means the destruction of Palestinian lives. In fact, the situation is far more nuanced. There is no recognition that many Arab homes in Silwan are illegal and can be lawfully removed (this too happens in Western nations). Nothing is said of the fact that Palestinians who own legally built homes and want to sell are paid handsomely. And little is mentioned about the massive amount of development, archaeologically and commercially, that has already occurred without catastrophic consequences for the Palestinians.
To be sure, Elad and Silwan’s Arab population do not dwell together in perfect unity and peace. The situation is fragile. But this only highlights how important it is that developments in this prized plot are reported on dispassionately and objectively.
Behold Your God
Jerusalem is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world. In 2019, close to 1 million people visited the ruins of ancient Jerusalem in the City of David. Elad officials believe this number will eclipse a million in 2020. Why is this acreage so popular to both locals
Ambassador Friedman answered this question: A visit to the City of David allows people to “go back in time. To go back into history. It brings the Bible to life!”
The fact that 1 million people will visit the City of David this year shows that this history continues to resonate—with Jews, with Christians and with others the world over. For many, seeing tangible evidence of the Bible—including ancient buildings, biblical era writings and artifacts bearing the names of biblical kings, prophets and other personalities—strengthens their faith and provides hope and inspiration. There is nothing else like it on Earth!
Clearly there is an appetite for the history buried in the City of David. But mainstream media minimize, discredit or ignore the archaeological finds from this area because these finds undermine the beliefs and aspirations of those who despise Israel and want to see the Jews’ presence curtailed or even removed.
Another reason discoveries in this area are despised is because they reflect positively on the Bible. Archaeologically, no terrain on Earth contains more evidence proving the biblical narrative than the City of David. Yet across the West and especially in Britain, America and parts of the Jewish state, culture and society are turning against the Bible and biblical morality and tradition. Radical secularists now control the media, educational institutions and large sections of the government in these nations, and these people are working aggressively to eradicate these countries’ Judeo-Christian heritage, values and traditions.
The City of David establishes the credibility of the Bible, which makes it a principal target of radical secularists!
In many respects, this war on the archaeology of the City of David is remarkably similar to what happened anciently and is recorded in the Bible. 2 Kings 14:23-28, for example, describe the kingdom of Israel at the time of King Jeroboam ii in the eighth century b.c.e. Verse 27 shows that when Jeroboam became king there was a conspiracy in the land to “blot out the name of Israel from under heaven ….”
“The name of Israel” refers to the 12 tribes of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. Judah, the father of the Jewish people, was one of Jacob’s sons and part of Israel. (Prophetically, the term “Israel” often applies more specifically to America and Britain, the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph that inherited the birthright promise made to Abraham. Request our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy for more information).
From this people’s earliest beginnings, there have been enemies who have attempted to “blot out the name of Israel.” Why? Fundamentally, it is because of Israel’s unique history and relationship with God.
The archaeology of the City of David declares Israel’s history with God. It proves the biblical record true and points people—Jews, Christians and anyone with an open mind—to the Bible. This is ultimately why the archaeology in the City of David is ignored or rejected. This is why many journalists, looking directly at the discovery of a new biblical artifact in ancient Jerusalem, will use it as an occasion to criticize Israel or Elad or “Jewish settlers.”
This approach to ancient Jerusalem also reveals why Gerald Flurry, our editor in chief, established Watch Jerusalem: We deeply value ancient Jerusalem’s biblical history and we celebrate the many invaluable archaeological discoveries made in the City of David proving the Bible!
The primary objective of this magazine is to follow the admonition of the Prophet Isaiah, who roughly 2,700 years ago declared, “[L]ift up thy voice with strength; Lift it up, be not afraid; Say unto the cities of Judah: ‘Behold your God!’“ (Isaiah 40:9). This message is written all over the archaeology of the City of David. Be it the ruins of King David’s palace or the gargantuan walls of Solomon’s palace; the bullae of King Hezekiah or Isaiah or the Judean princes who persecuted Jeremiah the prophet; or Nehemiah’s hastily built wall. It is written all over Pilgrim’s Road and the Pool of Siloam.
All of these sensational finds powerfully and unequivocally declare, “Behold your God!” This makes the City of David a priceless treasure and tremendous source of inspiration for all man!