Why is it problematic to financially support UK Friends of City of David?
The UK registered charity, UK Friends of the City of David’s official objectives are to promote “the preservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment in and surrounding ancient Jerusalem”. But the Israeli organisation City of David, also known as ELAD, for whom it raises funds, has been playing a key role in developing Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, in particular the most controversial settlements that are enclaves within Palestinian neighbourhoods.
By donating to UK Friends of City of David, your funds would be used to support the work of ELAD in east Jerusalem, which includes actively pursuing the evictions of Palestinians from their homes, in order to make way for settlers.
Who is ELAD/ City of David (Ir David)?
ELAD, (an acronym for EL IR DAVID which means in Hebrew “To the City of David”) is a settler-organisation that runs the archaeological site City of David in the neighbourhood of Silwan, in occupied East Jerusalem.
ELAD was established in 1986 with its declared mission being to strengthen the Jewish connection to the site of ancient Jerusalem through various activities including settling Jews in this area. As a spokesman for ELAD once proudly declared, “Our aim is Judaize East Jerusalem“.
For years, the foundation was associated mainly with settlement activity in east Jerusalem; more recently, however, it has rebranded itself as a foundation engaged primarily in education and tourism and less so in settlement activity. You can read more about Elad and its history in this detailed resource by the Israeli organisation Peace Now.
The status of East Jerusalem
Israel occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move that was never recognised by the international community. Israel considers the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians view the eastern part as the capital of their future state. Under international law, the annexed area is considered part of the occupied territory of the West Bank.
Over 215,000 Israeli settlers now live in east Jerusalem among around 340,000 Palestinians, according to the Israeli peace group Peace Now.
Archaeology, Settlements and Evictions
The City of David site has been excavated repeatedly over a period of 150 years. In the past two decades, most of the excavations at the site have been funded by ELAD, and carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, a government body.
The archaeological and tourism site has been criticised by European Union diplomats as seeking to ignore the ancient city’s diverse history in favour of “an exclusively Jewish narrative, while detaching the place from its Palestinian surroundings”.
The City of David website said it is “committed to continuing King David’s legacy as well as revealing and connecting people to ancient Jerusalem’s glorious past through four key initiatives: archaeological excavation, tourism development, educational programming and residential revitalization”.
But ELAD is not only interested in archaeology: the group is dedicated to obtaining control over more and more property in the area and replacing Palestinian residents with Jewish settlers.
Beneath its archaeological digs and tourism activities, ELAD has been buying Palestinian houses and actively pursuing evictions in the courts, using controversial Israeli laws that allow the state to take over Palestinian property (see below for further details). Approximately 450 settlers now live alongside almost 10,000 Palestinians in Silwan.
As a result, one of the most significant historic sites in Jerusalem has become a powerful tool of the settlement enterprise, undermining efforts to reach a two-state solution, which is dependent on a compromise in Jerusalem where the Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem form part of a Palestinian capital.
The efforts to take control over Palestinian areas in occupied east Jerusalem seek to prevent this compromise, and thus are a significant threat to the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Beyond this long-term aim to undermine peace efforts, the settlements in east Jerusalem create an unbearable present-day reality. The forced evictions and displacement that Palestinians living in these areas face, cannot be ignored.
The Absentee Property Law
Israel’s Absentee Property Law was legislated in 1950, and ruled that any person who lived at any time between November 27, 1947 and September 1, 1948 (during the War of Independence) outside the boundaries of the Israeli state, had his or her property automatically transferred to the tenure of the Israeli Custodian for Absentee Property, without any compensation.
This law came to ensure that no claim would be held for these lands by Palestinian refugees who fled during the war.
After the 1967 Six Day War, when East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel, all Israeli law, including the Absentee Property Law was applied to this area. This meant that any Palestinian who owned lands in East Jerusalem prior to the Israeli occupation, and who lived in the West Bank (or anywhere abroad), outside the new boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality, was under the threat of losing his or her property.
Recognising the issues this application of law created, a court ruling deemed it was not appropriate to apply the law to those that lived in the West Bank and owned properties in East Jerusalem. It was rarely used at all to gain control of properties in Jerusalem until the 1980s, when properties were taken in the Old City and Silwan, some of which ended up in the hands of ideological settlers.
Jewish ownership of lands in Wadi Hilweh, Silwan, pre-1948
At the beginning of the 20th century, Baron de Rothschild purchased land on the eastern slopes of the Wadi Hilweh hill in Silwan, east Jerusalem, with the intention of dedicating it to archaeological excavations. A short time earlier, in the 1880s, a group of Jews purchased lands in southern Silwan, where they established a community known as Kfar Shiloah (Shiloah Village).
At its peak, over a hundred Jewish families lived in Kfar Shiloah. During the First World War, residents began abandoning the village and by the late 1920s (the 1929 riots) and the “Arab revolt” of 1936, Kfar Shiloah emptied of its Jewish residents. As far as we know, during this period, only a single Jewish family lived in Wadi Hilweh itself, in a house known today as the “Meyuhas house,” and left during the 1930s.
After 1948, east Jerusalem remained under Jordanian control and Jewish owned property was under the tenure of the Jordanian Custodian of Absentee Property until 1967 when the West Bank was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War.
The fact that there was a Jewish community in Silwan prior to 1948, is not a reason to evict Palestinians from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers today. The 750,000 Palestinians that were displaced during the War of Independence in 1948 do not have the right to reclaim their properties that are inside Israel.
The 750,000 Palestinians that were displaced during the War of Independence in 1948 do not have the right to reclaim their properties that are inside Israel.
Applying this logic exclusively to Jewish Israelis, but not to Palestinians, only exposes a significant inequality before the law.
What about UK taxpayer’s money funding Palestinian textbooks inciting against Israel?
Despite claims that UK aid money is spent by the Palestinian Authority on textbooks that could incite violence against Israel, no UK taxpayers’ money funds education materials that could be accused of inciting violence.
The government has been clear that UK aid money to the Palestinian Authority does not even fund textbooks but contributes to the salaries of public servants in the West Bank such as nurses and teachers. UK funds are paid through the European PEGASE mechanism directly to bank accounts of these vetted public servants.
The EU has launched an independent review of Palestinian text books undertaken by the George Eckert Institute, partly as a result of the UK government lobbying for this to take place. The final report is expected at the end of this year.
The UK offers financial support to the Palestinian Authority as part of its efforts to prepare the region for a two state-solution and support a stable Palestinian Authority which can act as an effective partner for peace with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is one of Israel’s most important partners and is considered a valuable strategic asset. The Israeli government maintained intense security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority for years, until earlier this year when the PA ended its security coordination with Israel after Netanyahu announced a plan to annex large areas in the occupied West Bank.
For decades, the Israeli defence establishment has considered it vital to its security mission. So, on the most sensitive issue of all for Israel, that of security, the PA is one of Israel’s most important partners.
Yachad opposes all forms of incitement and violence. We have always been clear that the only way to end conflicts - including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - is through negotiations and diplomacy, not violence.