JERUSALEM–Israel has a plan to attract more Emirati tourists, part of a push to cement Arab-Israeli ties after the Abraham Accords normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries. The inclusion of an archeological park in East Jerusalem, run by far-right Jewish settlers, on the tourist itinerary is fueling tensions and drawing criticism from both Israelis and Palestinian experts.
The City of David National Park is one of Israel’s most popular–and controversial–tourist attractions. It is popular because it is located beneath the city walls, where guides claim King David ruled. This is where important events in Jewish history took place. The park is a popular stop-off spot for right-wing politicians. It advocates that Muslims will enjoy learning about the history and significance of Solomon and David, both important figures in Judaism and Islam.
” This is history, the foundations for Jerusalem. It’s very important for the Muslim world,” stated Arie Parnis. He used to work as an independent guide for the Ir David Foundation. The far-right settler group that runs the park is known by the Hebrew abbreviation Elad. “This is Jerusalem’s most fascinating place. There is where it all began. There were prophets and kings there.” This park is included on the Israeli tourism ministry’s itinerary for Emirati and Bahraini tourists.
JERUSALEM–Israel has a plan to attract more Emirati tourists, part of a push to cement Arab-Israeli ties after the Abraham Accords normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries. The inclusion of an archeological park in East Jerusalem, run by far-right Jewish settlers, on the tourist itinerary is creating tension in the region. Experts from both Israel and Palestine are critical.
The City of David National Park is one of Israel’s most popular–and controversial–tourist attractions. It is located beneath the city walls, where guides claim King David ruled. This is where important events in Jewish history took place. The park is a popular stop-off spot for right-wing politicians. It advocates that Muslims will enjoy learning about the history and significance of Solomon and David, both important figures in Judaism and Islam.
” This is history, the foundations for Jerusalem. It’s very important for the Muslim world,” stated Arie Parnis. He used to work as an independent guide for the Ir David Foundation. The far-right settler group that runs the park is known by the Hebrew abbreviation Elad. This is the most fascinating place in Jerusalem. There is where it all began. There were prophets and kings there.” This park is included on the Israeli tourism ministry’s itinerary for Emirati and Bahraini tourists.
Many locals and critics believe that the park serves more as a vehicle to Jewish settler expansion in East Jerusalem than it is for serious history.
It is “a propaganda site to inform tourists a narrative which most Israeli historians and archeologists don’t believe.” “It’s not just the Arabs that will be cheated there. It’s everyone who comes,” Nazmi Jubeh (a historian at Birzeit university in the West Bank) said. It is a site that has a wrong narrative. They are kicking the ass of science.”
Locals claim that the park is a reason to make Palestinians outsiders within their city, and implicitly justifies their expulsion.
“They shouldn’t visit a place where history is falsified, and they shouldn’t legitimize the settlers,” said 57-year-old Awadallah al-Mukhtar, standing outside his home on the main street of the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood where the park is situated.
Some Palestinians in Wadi Hinweh feel that Emiratis visiting the settler park will be a betrayal. This is a deepening of the hurt many feel about the United Arab Emirates for normalizing relations to Israel. This agreement did away with the old formula that required Arab countries to normalize relations only if Israel ended its occupation on lands it had captured in the 1967 conflict, which included East Jerusalem.
In several East Jerusalem neighborhoods, the situation is particularly dire for Palestinians. According to the dovish Peace Now movement, settlers want to encroach on an unprecedented level. According to Peace Now, 78 Palestinian families in the Batn al-Hawa neighbourhood, just a few steps from Wadi Hilweh are at risk of being evicted to make room for settlers. This is because their homes were owned more than 100 years ago by Jews.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, settlement activity is proceeding rapidly, with expansion of settlements deep in the heartland of the area in which Palestinians hope to establish their future state. While the UAE supports a Palestinian state, it has not joined the United States or European Union in condemning settlement activity that most of the international community considers illegal.
The Emiratis did not accidentally place the archeological park on their itinerary, according to Menachem Klein, an Emirati political scientist and specialist on Jerusalem. He said that Emirati tourists are being used to approve the official Israeli narrative about Jerusalem. This is the same story as the settler narrative.
Israeli Archeologists have challenged the official line and called for the park’s closure or removal from Elad’s hands. They claim Elad has distorted an important archeological site in order to suit its political agenda.
RafiGreenberg, an archeologist at Tel Aviv University, cast doubts on Elad’s suggestion that the structure highlighted on the tour was likely King David’s palace. These organizations use archeology as a way to hide what they’re doing. Greenberg stated that the general presentation of the site in archeological terms is meant to make the present inhabitants appear as intrusive, extraneous, and an imposition on it. “It’s a way of making the present inhabitants of the site illegitimate.”
Elad seems to believe that the City of David is actually made up of Palestinian areas, including Wadi Hilweh. This notion is in conflict with the two-state solution favored by the majority of the international community. However, Israel rejects it, considering Jerusalem its “eternal and undivided capital.”
Israel annexed East Jerusalem following the 1967 conflict, viewing it as a liberation. The Israeli army’s impressive victory in the Six-Day War triggered a nationalistic euphoria, and a feeling of entitlement to biblically-resonant Palestinian territories. The tour’s history is very similar to that propagated by the settlers. There is also a Messianic undertone. The Jewish Second Temple, once located near the end the park tour, was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. during Jewish uprising. Some Israelis believe that a third Jewish temple would be built at the site of Islam’s third-holiest spot, Al-Aqsa Mosque. They see expansions as part of this process.
Noa Yahav, an 18-year-old guide giving the tour as part of her state-supported national service, said that the 1967 war was part of the process of “redemption” of the Jewish people, a common belief of ideological settlers who view their own actions as facilitating the coming of a Messianic age even today. She said, “We are today part of redemption, of turning over.”
Reut Wilf, a spokesperson for Elad, did not respond to most questions Foreign Policy asked. She issued this statement: “Elad works within the law in developing Ancient Jerusalem. This allows access to millions of visitors from Israel and around the globe, of all faiths and backgrounds. We oppose all efforts by political organizations who make cynical use of the history and heritage of Jerusalem, one of the world’s most important cities, for political ends.”
Neither the UAE Embassy in Tel Aviv or the UAE foreign ministry replied to requests for comment.
Settler penetration isn’t Mukhtars only reason to resent Israel. In order to make a place for the Western Wall (which is believed to be the perimeter to the Second Temple), Israeli bulldozers destroyed an eight-century-old Arab Mughrabi area in the Old City on June 1967, just after Israel had captured East Jerusalem.
There was one death. According to Uzi Benziman, Mukhtar’s grandmother Rasmia Tabaki was pulled semiconscious from her partially burned house. She later died. Fifty-four years later, Mukhtar said he feels under pressure from settlers and Israeli authorities who now call his street “King David’s Ascent,” and the whole neighborhood “City of David.” Approximately 500 settlers live among some 6,000 lower-income Palestinians in Wadi Hilweh.
” The strategy of the settlers ist to restore the Biblical kingdom around the Old City,” stated Daniel Seidemann (an Israeli lawyer and director at Terrestrial Jerusalem), a nongovernmental organization which supports arrangements in the city as part of a 2-state solution.
“They have used house-to-house fighting to take over houses using legal, quasi-legal and blatantly illicit means. They have also engaged in displacement of Palestinians in order to transform [Wadi Hilweh], into what they claim will be an extension the Jewish quarter” of Old City. Seidemann stated. Elad counters by claiming that all its actions are legal.
Palestinians say they feel pressured to leave the neighborhood. “I feel the neighborhood is changing from Arab to Jewish,” said Hisham Siam, a 63-year-old auto mechanic. “The park is part of an effort to remove Arabs from this area so that they can claim it’s the City of David,” he stated. He also pointed out cracks in his wall that he claimed were caused by archeological tunneling beneath it.
Klein is the Jerusalem specialist from Bar-Ilan University. He suggested that pointing Emirati tourists towards the City of David for Israel was a way to get Emirati citizens involved in the marginalization of Palestinians in the same way as their government.
“Normalization was approved by the UAE and Bahrain although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not settled,” Klein said. “Israel saw that as an expression of the Arab will to sideline the Palestinian issue.”
Klein stated that Israel wants to promote its story on Jerusalem to Emirati tourists. It’s not just between governments. They want it to be extended to Emirati citizens and those who visit. He said that they want to influence the minds of Emirati citizens.”
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