A recent ceremony marking the excavation of a road that archaeologists believe was used by Biblical-era Jewish pilgrims – perhaps even Jesus – has drawn fire from Palestinians, who accuse Israeli and US officials of trying to “Judaise” Jerusalem.
The controversy is the latest political skirmish between Israelis and Palestinians over archaeological excavations.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and US Middle East special envoy Jason Greenblatt attended the event Sunday, along with Israeli officials and archaeologists. The City of David Foundation hosted the ceremony.
The road, which was at ground level 2,000 years ago but is now below ground, extends from the Siloam Pool (‘Shiloach’ in Hebrew) just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem to the southern part of the Western Wall.
From there, pilgrims would have ascended to the Second Jewish Temple, on what is today’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, via a stairway.
According to the Gospel of John (9:1-11), Jesus healed the blind man at the Siloam Pool.
The site is in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and annexed soon afterward. Palestinians want the territory, which much of the international community considers occupied, to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Palestinian officials say Jews have no historical or religious claims to the region. Israeli officials maintain present-day Israel and the West Bank were part of the Biblical Land of Israel and employ archaeology to prove it.
Friedman, an Orthodox Jew and a supporter of Israeli settlements, said the Pilgrimage Road’s existence “confirms with evidence, with science, with archaeological studies that which many of us already knew, certainly in our heart: the centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish people”.