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Rightist foundation accused of using illegally dug tunnel in Jerusalem

April 14, 2015 8:54 P.M. (Updated: April 15, 2015 3:42 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Rightwing Israeli organization Elad was charged Sunday with controlling and using a tunnel dug illegally under the Davidson Archaeological Park near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, according to Israeli news source Haaretz.

Funded by Elad, the tunnel was dug over the past eight years by the Israel Antiquities Authority and has been operating for a number of years as part of the City of David tourism complex in occupied East Jerusalem.

Despite historical religious and political tensions regarding the area, tickets to enter and explore the tunnel can only be purchased at the City of David, an illegal Israeli settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh, Silwan, and the tunnel is operated solely by Elad.

Last September the Israeli High Court nullified an agreement between Elad and government company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City which previously gave Elad authority to run the Davidson Archaeological Park, the Haaretz report said.

Emek Shaveh, an Israeli organization of archaeologists and community activists who protest the political use of archaeology, submitted a petition to the High Court on Sunday arguing that Elad should no longer have control over the tunnel, in light of the nullified agreement between Elad and the state, the petition stated.

Tunnels pushing out Palestinian residents

Israel frequently permits excavations and archaeological digs in occupied East Jerusalem, specifically around the Al-Aqsa mosque, that threaten the structural integrity of Palestinian homes and holy sites in the area.

Elad, also known as the Ir David Foundation, aims to "rediscover and preserve the Biblical city of David," in an effort to connect Jews to their Biblical roots through tourism, archaeological excavation, and "Judaizing Jerusalem" by buying out homes in Arab majority neighborhoods, according to the organization website.

Such rediscovery comes at the expense of Palestinian locals.

The organization began the buy and takeover of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem in the early 1990's, and later established the City of David Settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh.

Israeli settlers who move to the area with the assistance of Elad often receive protection from private security guards contracted by the Ministry of Housing.

The amount of government funds allocated to security for settlers in occupied East Jerusalem reached around 100m ($26m) in 2014 alone, according to Haaretz.

Israeli authorities had announced a plan to build a Jewish history park in Wadi Hilweh in February 2014, for which seven families had received eviction notices for the project, according to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center.

In the past, tunnels have partially collapsed and caused holes to open up above them, threatening Palestinian homes, roads, and a local mosque.

Furthermore, Israeli excavations at the entrance to the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood have destroyed deep-rooted Islamic antiquities from the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphate eras, including a Muslim cemetery, according to the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage

In response to Sunday's petition to revoke control of the tunnel, Elad told Haaretz, "When the petition is received it will be studied by the association and its response will be delivered to the court."

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