Photo Credit: Jewish Press
The Islamic Waqf rests not in its efforts to rub out all Jewish connections to Jerusalem – so how can we even consider relaxing our efforts to keep the Holy City Jewish?
Just last week, the Waqf – the Jordan-based Islamic body that runs the Temple Mount and other Islamic sites – was caught red-handed taking the law into its own hands by fencing off a part of the Jerusalem municipality. It was not just any piece of real estate the Muslims were trying to seize but rather a hilltop that has been called “the second most important archeological site in Jerusalem after the City of David.”
The site in question is the ancient biblical spot known as Givah or Givat Sha’ul, just outside and overlooking the modern northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev. King David’s predecessor King Saul ruled the Tribes and soon-to-be Nation of Israel from here, and ruins of a castle assumed to be his have been found on the spot. In addition, the infamous biblical event known as pilegesh b’givah (Judges 19-21), occurred here as well, over 3,200 years ago.
The site also has special, more immediate significance for our own generation: The late King Hussein of Jordan was serenely in the midst of building himself a summer palace on this hilltop overlooking Jerusalem and the Judean Mountains when his workers were abruptly and rudely interrupted by the Six-Day War, and Israel liberated the area right in mid-construction.
Ever since then, the unfinished, instantly recognizable skeleton of the building has stood untouched on the hill. Originally a lone, pillared structure amidst pristine mountain tops, it is now surrounded by Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.
For 44 years, the half-finished structure remained as it was. Out of the blue last week the Waqf decided, without asking for or receiving municipal permission, to try to fence it off as if it were its own private property.
In addition to the blow at Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem that this move represents, it signifies yet another attempt to usurp a historic treasured Jewish site and “Islamicize” it.
The story behind the attempt is told by Im Eshkakhech founder and president Chaim Silberstein:
“The site holds a commanding view of Jerusalem and environs, and much of the Arab encroachment on Jewish neighborhoods can be seen clearly and concretely from here. I was in the middle of giving one of our strategic tours there when I saw an Arab work crew hard at work, something I had never seen before at the site. I went up to the manager and asked him what was going on. He said, ‘This is our property and we’re fencing it in.’ I asked him who gave him a permit to build there – and he answered, ‘The Waqf’ – as if it were self-evident that the Waqf owns the property and can determine who builds there.
“He also told me that the reason for the fencing was because ‘this area is dangerous,’ as if it were up to the Waqf to decide where and when to build fences in Jerusalem. I immediately submitted a complaint to the Jerusalem municipality and notified many people, such as Jerusalem lands activist Aryeh King, nationalist-camp activists and Knesset Members. In truth, I was very disappointed in Mayor Barkat; he responded by issuing only a ‘stop-work’ order instead of a demolition order.
“In any event, however, King later contacted the Lands Authority, and they tore down the fence.”
The Givat Sha’ul we are talking about is not to be confused with the more modern Jerusalem neighborhood by the same name, given in memory of Rabbi Yaakov Sha’ul Elyashar, who was named Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the Holy Land in 1893.
Just how Jewish is the ancient site that bears the same name? Very. In addition to being King Saul’s capital and the site of the pilegesh b’givah, it is also mentioned in Joshua 18:28 as being in the Tribe of Benjamin’s inheritance, and is featured in the Books of Isaiah and Hosea as well. Josephus mentions it as being the site of the encampment of the 10th Roman Legion during the devastating assault on Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
For the Arabs, on the other hand, it is named Tel el-Ful, meaning, Hill of Beans.
Several excavations were carried out there between 1868 and 1964, the latter in preparation for the construction of Hussein’s palace. Sizeable remnants of the period of Kings Saul and David, and their palaces, were found.
“The Waqf is trying to remove Jewish connections to Jerusalem,” Silberstein says, referring to the recent near-land grab as well as those that preceded and followed it, “and impose PLO sovereignty in eastern Jerusalem. We will not sit back quietly.”
Given the rich archaeological past of Givat Sha’ul, it clearly has tremendous potential for tourism, as well as for archaeologists. What is needed is vision, say activists, as well as money – and a dose of national pride and guts. For it is clear that Jordan’s royal family has its eye constantly peeled toward the site it once chose for its almost-palace – but this does not mean Israel must bend over backward and give up its historical/national/religious claims to any part of the holy city.
One thing must be clear to us as loyal lovers of Jerusalem: Neither the municipality nor the national government must allow Givat Sha’ul to fall into Arab hands. The more Jewish visitors to Givat Sha’ul, the more likely it will remain in our hands.
If you would like to arrange a visit to Givat Sha’ul or be otherwise involved in these crucial Keep Jerusalem activities, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website at www.keepjerusalem.org.
Hillel Fendel is past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7 and an author. Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel ‘s minister of tourism. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.