Israeli settlers turn archeological sites into political tools

The Biyar Aqueduct has become a tourist attraction for Israeli settlers. (photo: Duane Vander Klok)

Every year, some 100,000 women, children and men visit the Biyar Aqueduct, built some 2,000 years ago to supply water to Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple.

By Akiva Eldar / Al-Monitor / Oct 3, 2017

“There is clear evidence at the Biyar Aqueduct — as there is at other sites — of the presence of the sons of the Judean Kingdom or of Jews at various periods. The problem is that these sites are being used as propaganda tools to establish the right of Jews to those lands, and the multicultural aspect of thousands of years of history is sidelined or even wiped out of the whole story.”
— Archaeologist Yonathan Mizrachi

The Israeli left made no bones about its glee over the empty bleachers at the September 27 jubilee celebration of the liberation of Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley and Golan Heights organized by the settlers in the occupied West Bank. The left views the photos of the empty seats as proof of the settlers’ failure to occupy the hearts and minds of the general Israeli public. The leftists argue that not only did the billions poured by successive Israeli governments into the settlements for 50 years lure fewer than 5% of Israelis to live there — about 400,000 according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics — the vast majority avoided the wasteful “liberation festival.”

Yet the pleasure taken by the left in the seeming failure of the settlers and their patrons is somewhat pathetic. Granted, the right-wing concept of a return to the land of the forefathers has not created a major demographic shift of Israelis moving to the settlements. Nonetheless, the notion has ingrained itself in the minds of broad swathes of the Israeli public and of tens of thousands of visitors from around the world. It happens daily in Jerusalem’s Old City and throughout the West Bank.

This occupation is alive and very well, for example, at the site of Biyar Aqueduct that lies within walking distance of the failed jubilee ceremony in the Etzion settlement bloc that was organized by Culture Minister Miri Regev. Every year, some 100,000 women, children and men visit the Biyar Aqueduct that was built some 2,000 years ago to supply water to Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. The aqueduct epitomizes the importance of the entire area as the source of life for Jewish Jerusalem in its golden age. The website of the Kfar Etzion Field School that operates the site reads, “Various researchers date the Biyar Aqueduct to different times over a 200-year period that began with King Alexander Yannai [of the Hasmonean period in the first century B.C.], through King Herod and even the Roman era.” Despite this uncertainty, the aqueduct is presented to visitors as a relic of the early Roman era, also known as the “days of the Second Temple.” According to official reporting by the field school to the nongovernmental organization registrar, the aqueduct tours brought in more than 16 million Israeli shekels ($4.5 million) in 2014.

“The Biyar Aqueduct is an example of a ‘tourism settlement’ — creating a tourist site on ancient relics and marketing the place as an Israeli heritage site,” archaeologist Yonathan Mizrachi told Al-Monitor. Mizrachi heads the Emek Shaveh center that seeks to prevent the use of ancient relics as a tool in national conflict or a value justifying harm to weak groups. Such use is made by the operators of the City of David site below the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, on the land of the Palestinian village of Silwan. Almost every Israeli high school student and soldier is brought to visit the site, becoming an advocate of an Israeli presence there. Silwan’s Muslim past and the link of its residents to the place is presented as random and negligible, if at all.

[Read the full article here . . . ]