CBS: Israeli Archeological Dig 'Indoctrination' for Expanding 'Jewish Encroachment'

On Sunday's 60 Minutes, CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl fretted over the possible expansion of Israeli settlements near an important archeological site in Jerusalem: "So archeology is being used as a political tool....indoctrination, almost." She claimed that "organizations that move Jewish settlers into Arab areas have infiltrated" the surrounding Arab neighborhood.

Stahl described the dig site: "...more and more Israeli settlers have moved east into the Arab-populated areas. One place where it's gotten especially complicated and volatile is the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. The complication in Silwan involves an Israeli archeological dig called the City of David." She worried about the religious implications: "It's controversial that the City of David uses discoveries to try to confirm what's in the Bible, particularly from the time of David, the king who made Jerusalem his capital....There's an implicit message that because David conquered the city for the Jews back then, Jerusalem belongs to the Jews today."

Stahl worked to dismiss the biblical significance of the site: "...archeologists tell us that no one has found any evidence that Abraham was ever here....for all the talk of King David, one thing is glaringly missing here at the City of David. There's actually no evidence of David."

After labeling the project as "indoctrination," Stahl focused on the Palestinian point of view: "Jawad Siyam was born in this very, very special place, and says he can trace his roots here back 930 years....he's become an activist leader in Silwan, where there have been a string of escalating confrontations. In this protest, at the City of David, Jawad got into a shouting match with a site-worker behind a gate." A clip was played of Siyam screaming: "And you will be the rubbish of the history! There is no proof that King David was here! You want to take our land!"

Stahl explained how "some of the incidents have become violent," describing an incident in which two Palestinian boys – who were throwing rocks at and running in front of passing cars – were hit by a car driven by the head of a Jewish organization backing the archeological exploration.

Stahl proclaimed: "There's a feeling of encroachment. The Arabs feel it....That feeling of Jewish encroachment has been heightened by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who is doing all he can to make sure East Jerusalem remains under Israeli sovereignty." She noted how Barkat "wants to create a Bible-themed garden and turn it into a tourist park adjacent to the City of David....[which] requires demolishing 22 Arab homes in Silwan."

Speaking to the mayor, Stahl leveled the accusation that he was trying to force out Palestinians: "The European Union, the United Nations, has criticized this plan to get rid of these 22 homes. Public opinion, especially while the peace talks are under way, is – is looking at this and saying you're trying to get rid – move Arabs out of Jerusalem....why not wait till the peace talks are settled?" Barkat shot back: "Lesley, the facts are wrong. Those structures are illegal....get your facts right before you bash Israel, before you bash Jerusalem." Stahl later argued: "You say that Jerusalem must never be divided. But most of the rest of the world says that if you want peace that may be the price that you have to pay."

Stahl concluded the segment: "Meanwhile, in the City of David, the excavations are continuing in full force. You can say they're digging in. Settlements have been a stumbling block in peace negotiations of the past....[the City of David] could become the stumbling block again."

Here is a portion of the October 17 segment:

7:05PM ET

LESLEY STAHL: It's controversial that the City of David uses discoveries to try to confirm what's in the Bible, particularly from the time of David, the king who made Jerusalem his capital.

DORON SPIELMAN: People believe that when King David captured the city, he snuck underground through this tunnel, which led him underneath the city wall up into the city.

STAHL: Half a million tourists visit the site every year with guides who try to bring King David to life. There's an implicit message that because David conquered the city for the Jews back then, Jerusalem belongs to the Jews today. Today, I've seen scores and scores of soldiers coming through.

SPIELMAN: It's part of their cultural day to try to learn about what they're fighting for. And when we bring them here, they understand that they're not just fighting for today, they actually represent the return of the Jewish people to Israel after thousands of years.

STAHL: So archeology is being used as a political tool. I mean – I mean, I hate to use the word, but indoctrination, almost.

SPIELMAN: I wouldn't call it indoctrination. I would call it giving meaning to life, giving meaning to why we're here.

STAHL: But for all the talk of King David, one thing is glaringly missing here at the City of David. There's actually no evidence of David, right?

SPIELMAN: There's no doubt that this is the City of David from the Bible. There's no doubt that the Bible took place here. Proof of David himself, until we find the actual name, we can't say.

STAHL: Another problem is an inconvenient truth that biblical Jerusalem is not located in the western half of the city. It's right under the densely-populated Arab neighborhood of Silwan. And according to the Clinton parameters, Silwan should be part of a Palestinian state. To remedy that, organizations that move Jewish settlers into Arab areas have infiltrated Silwan. Under heavy security, a group of settlers live in this seven-story building. They've barricaded themselves in and refuse to leave. With some 450 Jews living among tens of thousands of Arabs, Silwan is now at the center of the battle to keep all of Jerusalem under Israeli control. So how does the City of David tie into this? Well, while a government agency oversees the excavations, the dig and the site are largely funded and run by something called El'Ad. Doron Speilman works for El'Ad, which claims they're not a settlers' organization, though, people we spoke to say they are.

SPIELMAN: I think that it'd be correct to call us an organization who believes deeply in the history of Jerusalem.

STAHL: So it's all archaeology?

SPIELMAN: Archaeology and rebuilding a Jewish neighborhood.

STAHL: So El'Ad is doing archaeology and settlements?

SPIELMAN: We are doing archaeology, and we are buying homes and buying land.

STAHL: But is it El'Ad's goal to ease the Arabs away from right where we are right now?

SPIELMAN: Put it this way, if there's a home that an Arab wants to sell and I have the money to buy it and I can move, enable a Jewish family to live there, and I can dig archaeologically underneath it-

STAHL: Mm-Hm.

SPIELMAN: -then I think that's a wonderful thing to do.

STAHL: The Arabs say it's a provocative thing to do. Devout Jews Yonatan and Devorah Adler live in one of the houses El'Ad bought. El'Ad has raised tens of millions of dollars, half from the United States, and buys these homes on land the Palestinians claim for a future state. The Adlers raise their six kids here, on the actual dig.

YONATAN ADLER: The City of David is where Jerusalem began. This is where prophets walked. This is where half of the Bible was written. This is what we're talking about.

STAHL: And yet when – when you see those maps, it's over in the Palestinian side?

ADLER: Yeah. Well, maps are written on paper, this is written on our hearts.

STAHL: But it is one of the proposals on the table?

ADLER: I'll tell you, Jerusalem cannot be divided. Jews would never allow it.

STAHL: The Adlers say they don't mind living behind gates and having guards on their roof. They would never consider leaving. But you're like a soldier on the frontline.

DEVORAH ADLER: I don't think we see ourselves as soldiers at all. We see ourselves as very much as regular everyday people, living in a very, very special place.

STAHL: Palestinian Jawad Siyam was born in this very, very special place, and says he can trace his roots here back 930 years. He's pessimistic about the Palestinians ever having their own state. What will happen to this village if there's a two-state solution?

JAWAD SIYAM: I don't think there will be a two-state solution. That's not possible to do it. Today, they – the settler groups are much stronger than before. The settler groups in Jerusalem, they are controlling.

STAHL: He's angry that El'Ad bought his grandmother's house and moved a number of Jewish families in, so he's become an activist leader in Silwan, where there have been a string of escalating confrontations. In this protest, at the City of David, Jawad got into a shouting match with a site-worker behind a gate.

SIYAM: And you will be the rubbish of the history! There is no proof that King David was here! You want to take our land!

STAHL: Some of the incidents have become violent, like this one just nine days ago. Boys were throwing stones at passing cars. Watch what happens next as two of the boys get hit by one of the cars. The driver was, of all people, the head of El'Ad. He later went to the police and said he hadn't stopped because he felt his life was in danger. Both boys survived, one with a broken leg. Fighting often erupts here with Israeli guards brought in to protect the settlers.

SIYAM: Clashes are daily inside Silwan between the villagers and settlers and the gun guards for the security there.

STAHL: The government pays for the gun guards?

SIYAM: It's tax money. It's – I pay it. Every – everyone who is paying taxes is paying it.

STAHL: You pay taxes and that money goes to pay for the guards to guard the settlers.

SIYAM: Yes, of course.

STAHL: So you're helping guard the settlers.

SIYAM: Yeah, I'm – I'm a fan of the settlers and the gun guards.

STAHL: Jawad says that El'Ad uses the dig's archeological prestige to hide its aim of moving the locals out. And he believes that the tunneling is a way for El'Ad to extend its reach deeper into Silwan. They think you're digging under their houses.

SPIELMAN: It does, at points, go underneath homes, deep underneath the ground, which is why we have these metal supports around us.

STAHL: But it's under Arab homes.

SPIELMAN: It's under Jewish homes, Arab homes, and a road. What concerns these residents, Lesley, is not the tunnel. It's where the tunnel's going. It's what the tunnel means that concerns them.

STAHL: Well, where's the tunnel going?

SPIELMAN: The tunnel, one day, will open into the Western Wall Plaza. Then you will have undergone an experience that shows the Jewish Temple was important 600 years before Muhammad.

STAHL: To understand why this is so explosive, you have to understand the geography. Silwan lies in the shadow of some of the holiest sites in the world – Judaism's Western Wall and Islam's Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. There's a feeling of encroachment. The Arabs feel it.

SPIELMAN: There's no other place in the world that Jews want to live in more than here. The Arabs have Mecca, they have Medina, and they may also be interested in Jerusalem. But for the Jews, this is our only home.

STAHL: That feeling of Jewish encroachment has been heightened by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who is doing all he can to make sure East Jerusalem remains under Israeli sovereignty.

NIR BARKAT: We have to maintain a United Jerusalem.

STAHL: The mayor brought us to a hilltop over Silwan to show us his latest project, called King's Garden.

BARKAT: This is the most important area in the world.

STAHL: In the whole world?

BARKAT: Definitely. And in the valley right there below us is where King's Garden was.

STAHL: He wants to create a Bible-themed garden and turn it into a tourist park adjacent to the City of David. But as with the dig, the local Arabs see this as another attempt to gobble up their side of Jerusalem. Building the Mayor's park requires demolishing 22 Arab homes in Silwan. If you began to demolish these houses, it would be explosive, wouldn't it?

BARKAT: That's why you have to be very smart and sensitive dealing with an area so important in the City of Jerusalem.

STAHL: He says that area is a slum in which the houses were built illegally, and his plan will fix that. But the locals want to stay in their homes. I heard you wanted to evict people. Where are –  where are those houses?

BARKAT: That's – that's just not true. To accept-

STAHL: Well, wait, but if you make a park, then those houses can't be there anymore.

BARKAT: They mustn't have been there in the first place.

STAHL: Yeah, but so – so you will evict. You will evict.

BARKAT: Not evict. When you improve their quality of life, the right word to say is that you're dealing with improvement of quality of life.

STAHL: His park, he says, will upgrade the area, and he'll allow the people who'll be evicted to build new houses nearby. But locals tell us the only way to do that would be to build on top of other homes in Silwan. The European Union, the United Nations, has criticized this plan to get rid of these 22 homes. Public opinion, especially while the peace talks are under way, is – is looking at this and saying you're trying to get rid – move Arabs out of Jerusalem.

BARKAT: That's not true.

STAHL: But that's the way it looks. And why – my question is-

BARKAT: Well, the facts are-

STAHL: -why not wait till the peace talks are settled?

BARKAT: Lesley, the facts are wrong. Those structures are illegal. They're sitting on an area that the world – the world wants to be part of a city that is flourishing, that is clean, that is beautiful. So what I'm saying here is get your facts right before you bash Israel, before you bash Jerusalem.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC