Tourist Center Planned At Sensitive Jerusalem Site

Published December 27, 2011 11:36AM (EST)

JERUSALEM (AP) — A hard-line Israeli group is launching plans for a tourist center at the site of a politically sensitive archaeological dig in a largely Arab neighborhood outside Jerusalem's Old City, officials said Tuesday.

The group, the Elad Foundation, said the new visitors center and parking garage will be built above a section of the excavation area known as the City of David, leaving the ruins below accessible. The foundation said construction is still several years away.

Israeli archaeologists at the City of David, named for the biblical monarch thought to have ruled from the spot 3,000 years ago, are investigating the oldest part of Jerusalem.

The site, one of Jerusalem's most popular tourist attractions, is located just outside the Old City walls at the edge of the neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem, the part of the city the Palestinians want as the capital of a hoped-for state.

Israeli construction there is regularly subject to international criticism. The latest plan to expand the site is likely to anger the Palestinians and risks setting off violence in the volatile area.

Critics say the plan will cement Israel's hold on the neighborhood and disrupt life for Arab residents.

Danny Seidemann, an expert on east Jerusalem who is critical of Israel's policies in the city, said the plan would result in "a pseudo-Biblical theme park which radically changes the fabric of an existing Palestinian neighborhood."

The Elad Foundation, which funds the dig, is associated with Israel's settlement movement and also brings Jewish families into Silwan, whose population is overwhelmingly Arab. The effort is partly intended to keep the city unified under Israeli control.

"The new center will serve tourists and visitors, Jews, Arabs, and anyone else coming to the City of David and the Western Wall," said Udi Ragones, a spokesman for the Elad Foundation.

A spokesman for Jerusalem City Hall said Tuesday that the plans would be discussed in a committee Wednesday and would then be open to public objections as part of the standard zoning process. That process typically takes between several months and several years.

By Salon Staff

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