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A lifetime achievement award for normalizing settlements

David Be’eri won the state’s highest award for doing what decades ago would have seemed impossible: inspiring the Israeli people to identify with the settler enterprise.

By Yonathan Mizrachi

Elad Chairman David Be'eri meets with Silwan Mukhtar Abu Jamil in City of David, Jerusalem, April 22, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Elad Chairman David Be’eri meets with Silwan Mukhtar Abu Jamil in City of David, Jerusalem, April 22, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Following last week’s announcement that David Be’eri, the founder of the settler organization Elad, had won the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement, some who closely monitor Israel’s settlement enterprise wondered why a person whose activity is limited to a single neighborhood in East Jerusalem was selected? Why not, say, Ze’ev Hever (Zambish), the figure most closely identified with the settler movement, whose work encompasses the entire West Bank?

Be’eri, whose mission in life is to Judaize East Jerusalem, could not have won the Israel Prize for establishing a settlement of 500 Jews in the heart of Silwan, a Palestinian village numbering 40,000 residents. Although the impact of the settlement, which is scattered throughout Silwan, is undeniable, Be’eri won the Israel Prize for something far more substantial: inspiring the Israeli people to identify with the settler enterprise, an unthinkable task when he first began 30 years ago.

Be’eri understood what any marketing expert knows: that in order to sell, you have to appeal to emotion. Today, many visitors to the City of David archeological site in Silwan truly feel that this is “where it all began,” as per Elad’s slogan. Be’eri and Elad may as well write a patent for identifying the tremendous latent potential in archaeology as a means to advance the settler enterprise.

By the mid-1990s, Be’eri and co. had understood that they were sitting on a gold mine that could bring about remarkable political change. In order to create this change, the foundation joined forces with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). While the latter transferred to Elad the rights to manage the City of David, the IAA became an excavations contractor, whose work at the archeological site reached unprecedented levels, especially considering that fact that we are talking about a relatively small area — 25 acres in the village of Silwan.

Archaeologists digging at a digging site of the remains of a citadel used by the Greeks more then 2,000 years ago to control the Temple Mount at the City of David near Jerusalem Old City on November 3, 2015, According to the Israeli Antiquities Authority the site was found under a parking lot a few years ago also know as Givati Parking Lot. (photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Archaeologists digging at a digging site of the remains of a citadel used by the Greeks more then 2,000 years ago to control the Temple Mount at the City of David near Jerusalem Old City on November 3, 2015, According to the Israeli Antiquities Authority the site was found under a parking lot a few years ago also know as Givati Parking Lot. (photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The positioning of City of David as the bedrock of Israeli identity rests on two central achievements: presenting the site as the capital of King David, the Biblical founding father of the Jewish nation, and the branding of the Roman street as a historical “pilgrim’s route” to the Second Temple. Thus, the City of David has taken on mythical dimensions in Israeli consciousness, and in complete disproportion to the fact that the area in question is little more than an archaeological mound with remains in various degrees of degradation.

Those who tour the site with an Elad guide are treated to an emotional, even spiritual experience, where religious texts and traditions shed light on the antiquities creating a 3D time tunnel that seals itself into the consciousness of every Israeli is recreated. Meanwhile disputes between archaeologists over the dating and significance of the finds remain inside the ivory tower (archaeology isn’t an exact science, and based on the little that has been published in academic journals, there is disagreement among archaeologists over the dating of some of the findings and their past uses. The most familiar debate is whether certain findings are the remains of King David’s palace. This is a complex discussion that defies populist slogans).

The Israel Antiquities Authority plays a decisive role in transforming City of David into a site that stirs feelings in over 300,000 Israelis and tourists each year. The IAA is the government body that Be’eri is most indebted to for his Israel Prize win, since they agreed to excavate almost every free space in Silwan in order to expand and strengthen City of David National Park.

Private security guards stand atop a home taken over by Israeli settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, February 21, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Private security guards stand atop a home taken over by Israeli settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, February 21, 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

At first the Elad-funded fencing and excavations involved mostly public areas (for example, the village spring). Later the Israel Antiquities Authority was recruited for the two biggest excavation enterprises in Jerusalem: the Givati Parking Lot excavations, across from the Old City walls, and the advancement of the construction plan for a giant visitor’s center; and the digging of tunnels 600 meters in length, from the Siloam Pool to the Western Wall area. In order to facilitate the extraordinary enterprise of transforming Silwan into the City of David, the Israel Antiquities Authority agreed to dig beneath a residential area using a method of excavation that has been criticized even within the IAA itself. The consent by various archaeologists, from both outside and within the IAA, for these kinds of excavations is what made that transformation possible in the first place.

Thus, while many criticize the settlements throughout the West Bank — mostly places they have never visited — when it comes to the archaeological settlement of City of David, Be’eri has won support across the board. Dressed up in the respectable guise of archaeology, Be’eri and his colleagues succeeded in concealing from many intelligent people the fact that City of David is situated in the heart of one of the most densely populated Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem — arguably in the most sensitive point in the city. Thanks to archaeology, Be’eri is free to continue Judaizing an area key to any political solution for Jerusalem.

Today, after over two decades of settlement in Silwan, David Be’eri and the Elad foundation stand at the center of the Israeli consensus. Their ability to deceive both the public and politicians into thinking that this is where the Jewish nation was founded is the reason for Be’eri’s win. The powerful emotional experience that accompanies a visit to the City of David is the key factor underlying Elad’s success in changing the geopolitical reality of Jerusalem (and that of the entire conflict).

Now we are seeing an entire generation of Be’eri followers in the West Bank: in Shiloh, Susya, and Hebron, to name a few. The Israeli Left, on the other hand, is failing perhaps because unlike Be’eri and his disciples, they have not found a way to speak directly to the heart of Israeli Jewish identity. Perhaps that is why Be’eri has won he Israel Prize this year, while the organizations on the left are fighting for their right to exist.

Yonathan Mizrachi is an archaeologist and CEO of Emek Shaveh organization. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Grandpa Frost

      “Be’eri, whose mission in life is to Judaize East Jerusalem…” If “Judaize” is a legitimate term to use, can we use the term “Islamize”? Would any of the 972 contributors use that term? For example, is it proper to be concerned about the Islamization of Europe, or does it automatically turn someone into an Islamaphobe? If so, does it mean we have different rules/standards for different groups of people? By the way, the idea that Jerusalem can be “Judaized” sounds just like the idea of Mecca can be “Islamized.”

      Reply to Comment
    2. i_like-ike52

      Wasn’t the whole idea of the Zionist enterprise to “Judaize” what was then the British Palestinie mandate? That wasn’t viewed as something negative. After all, the Muslims have moved agressively to Islamize the entire Middle East since the time of Muhammed. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        [*chuckle*] Once in a while the right wingers here get excited and let their guard down and reveal their true aims.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Shocking! Yes, I, along with several million Israelis and other Jews around the world support the Zionist enterprise to make Israel a Jewish state. That has not been a secret for more than 100 years.
          You ‘progressives’ get all hot on labels and epithets. “Judaization” sets you off, but you ignore “Islamization” which is a world-wide phenomenon. After all, Islam is an aggressively missionary religion, unlike Judaism and the Iranians and oil-rich Gulf States have poured huge amounts of money into Europe and the whole Western Hemisphere in order to buy influence and convert people to Islam.
          Yes, Zionism wants Israel to be a Jewish state, just as the Palestinian constitution calls for them to set up a ethnically based Arab state with theocratic underpinnings by having Islam proclaimed as the state religion. The same is true of all the Muslim Arab countries surrounding Israel. Since you are so solicitous about the Palestinians, you should be telling them that they should not define themselves as such, but since you and the other “progressives” don’t do that, you should either accept a “Judaized” Israel and if not, you are simply a hypocrite.

          Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            Ben-Your comment reminds me of the time one of your fellow “progressives” accused me of being a “tribalist”. I asked him if I was supposed to lose sleep over the fact that he called me that. So you are trying to intimidate people by throwing epithets at them, presumably assuming that being a “Judaizer” is a bad thing. Well, it isn’t. I don’t accept the loaded, politically correct jargon the “progressives” throw around
            BTW-How do you feel about your Jewish Voice for Peace having a convicted terrorist murderer like Rasmiah Odeh as a honored speaker at the JVP convention?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I don’t ignore Islamization and I don’t support it. Nor do I think the issue at hand is a battle of Islamization and Judaization, goose and gander. I feel you are trying to inject emotionalism by implying I’ve got it in for Judaism but not Islam and their respective nationalisms. I’m not in favor of either version of religious nationalism as political systems or as forms of denying others human rights. If for example Islamic nationalists tried as they have in the past to take all of Jerusalem instead of sharing it with Jews and Christians I would fiercely oppose it. If they tried to belligerently occupy and settle by civilian transfer territories captured in a future war with Israel I would fiercely oppose it. I am about practical and human compromise, with human rights being paramount. I don’t imagine there is some Solomonic perfect justice solution to the conflict. But I think Israel is demanding too much and is being unfair and inhumane in the process. And has all the power.
            You create false comparisons and false equivalences. Nobody here is singing the praises of primitivism in the Arab world. This magazine has plenty of articles about feminism and the plight of women among the Palestinians. And the plight of the Syrians. Last time I checked Israeli Jewish religious women didn’t have it so good either but I don’t see you railing against that. The false equivalence is to pretend the Palestinians have a state we can criticize for its treatment of women etc. instead of a brutally occupied populace whose religious fundamentalism is continually fueled by nationalist resistance justification themes while you won’t let go your death grip on them. You nurture their radicals and complain at the same time about how unprogressive they are. Last time I checked you had your unprogressive radicals too. And you lovingly nurture them too. And give them all sorts of special perks and let them avoid educating themselves. I think you ultimately root for the radicals on both sides because you are ultimately after a solution that requires a death struggle. And I feel that what your posts show here is that beneath all the harrumphing about evil progressives sits an unreconstructed pursuer of a maximalist extreme nationalist fight to the death over land. Well fine, Ike, have it your way, but then stop whining about it when the Palestinians fight you back and the western world does not empathize as it once did with poor little Israel the only democracy in the Middle East it just wants to live in peace blah blah blah. If you want a fight to the death that’s what you’ll get. Somebody around here was just lecturing us about “cause and effect, learn it, teach it.” I don’t have warm feelings about Rasmea Odeh but the Israeli side didn’t cold shoulder Elor Azaria either. Everybody is in a huff about Basel al-Araj and how he went down fighting, though no one has proved he actually shot at the soldiers who came and killed him, but they forget that al-Araj tried non-violent resistance but Israel shut that down as coldly and efficiently as possible and as brutally as necessary. This having it both ways won’t work. Meanwhile your ex-Mossad Chief just made quite a statement about the occupation as Israel’s greatest existential threat.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Ex-Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo, March 20, 2017:

            “Israel has chosen not to choose, hoping the conflict will resolve itself – perhaps the Arabs will disappear, maybe some cosmic miracle will happen. …. One day we will become a binational state because it will be impossible to untie the Gordian knot between the two peoples. That is not the way to decide. … Israel has one existential threat. It is a ticking time bomb. We chose to stick our head in the sand, creating a variety of external threats. An almost identical number of Jews and Muslims reside between the sea and the Jordan. The non-Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria live under occupation. This is Israel’s definition, not mine. The law in this territory is as we have made it, a military justice system that is subject to the authority of the Israel Defense Forces. … Israel is responsible for the humanitarian situation, and this is the place with the biggest problem in the world today. … Israel must deal with the demographic reality and decide which state we want to be. Life with alternative facts harbors a disaster for the Zionist vision. The key to saving the state requires brave leadership.”

            Reply to Comment
    3. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      I am so proud. Be’eri is a real Jewish hero for installing Jews in Shiloah. Silwan is a fake name.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Aminhotep

      Identity through implication.

      Reply to Comment