chapter  4
David’s City in Palestinian Silwan: towards the tipping point
Pages 26

For a site presented by its current management as one of Jerusalem’s most significant and oldest biblical locales, namely the capital of the united monarchy established by King David according to scripture, it is rather remarkable that David’s City only joined Jerusalem’s longestablished collection of venerated holy places and heritage sites in the last few years. Excavation of the area began in the closing decades of the nineteenth century and, since then, there has been a steadily growing scholarly consensus that significant parts of contemporary Wadi Hilweh constitute Jerusalem’s most ancient area of settlement, home to urban or protourban material remains going back as far as c.4000BCE.3 However, right into the early twentieth century only the Virgin’s Fount (Ain Umm el-Daraj) and the Waters of Siloam (Ain

Silwan) had any known historic or religious significance and the area had virtually no specific meaning for Judaism or local Jewish religious practice.4 In 1920, a French archaeologist first suggested renaming Wadi Hilweh ‘La Cité de David’, explicitly privileging this specific, speculative biblical tie as the narrative leitmotif of the successive excavations,5 which have revealed extremely varied findings, both in type and chronological attribution.6 It was only in the 1970s, when a major Israeli excavation project was conducted, there that ‘David’s City’ became the official Israeli designation, initially having no particular religious connotation; today, the term itself is increasingly questioned in the archaeological academic community.7 Since El’Ad took over the management of the park in 1997, ‘David’s City’ has essentially become a religious-nationalist battle cry that has transformed the area from an ordinary Palestinian neighbourhood with a few excavation pits, largely unknown to the Israeli public, into a religious settlement and major national biblical monument with hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and an official education site for Israeli school children and soldiers. In answering the question of how this particular heritage and religious sanctification could be instated in such a short period of time, we need to look at El’Ad’s sweeping architectural, landscaping and urban design overhaul of the area.