The Inauguration of Silwan Tunnel:
Background and Ramifications
One of the most dramatic developments to take place in Jerusalem in recent months was the highly touted ceremony officially opening the tunnel, or subterranean road, beneath Silwan/the City of David, highlighted by the participation of both US Ambassador David Friedman and Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt.
The event was not merely dramatic. The choreography illuminated at one critical moment and in one critical space two apparently disparate dimensions of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and their current dynamics: the territorial skirmishing and the battle over narrative in Jerusalem. More than anywhere else, the settlement in Silwan embodies the significant changes taking place in the Old City of Jerusalem and its immediate environs.
The opening tunnel was, superficially, a minor routine event that disclosed developments that are anything but routine. As such, it requires an in-depth analysis that takes a hard look at the event, its background and its consequences. In our three sectioned report, we will begin by examining the background and significance of the settlement in Silwan. In Part II, we will examine the tunnel, its archeological, historical and ideological significance and the context in which it was excavated. Part III will deal with the nature of the shift in US policy regarding Silwan, its sources and its ramifications.
A PDF copy of this analysis can be downloaded here.
Part I: BACKGROUND: THE SETTLEMENT ENTERPRISE IN SILWAN
A. Where is Silwan?
Silwan is a loosely defined area that extends southwards from the southern ramparts of the Old City, and incorporates large parts of Ras el Amud, Abu Tor and Wadi Kadum. Its population ranges from 20,000 to 50,000, depending on how one defines its boundaries.
The name Silwan derives from the Greek name Siloam, which in turn is a variation of the Biblical Shiloah.
Only two relatively small portions of Silwan have been the targets of settler activities: Wadi Hilweh (the City of David), on the slopes beneath the Dung Gate of the Old City, and Batan al Hawa (the Yemenite Quarter), across Wadi Naar (the Kidron Valley) from Wadi Hilweh, and on the southern slopes of the Mount of Olives.
Our focus will be exclusively on the settlement enterprise in Wadi Hilweh/City of David, and for the purposes of this study, the terms Silwan, Wadi Hilweh and City of David refer exclusively and interchangeably to this area.
B. What Makes Wadi Hilweh/the City of David So Special?
Silwan has long been perceived as axis mundi the quintessential settlement enclave in East Jerusalem. In this limited geographical space, all of the various dimensions of the conflict are concentrated, and at the peak of their intensity.
1. Location and History
Silwan is located almost adjacent to the Al Aqsa Mosque – quite literally in its shadow - and atop parts of ancient biblical Jerusalem. It is also a contemporary Palestinian neighborhood that has been under Israeli occupation since 1967.
While the historicity of King David and his kingdom are the subject of heated debate, there is little doubt that biblical Jerusalem developed on this ridge, at the latest commencing in the 8th century B.C, (hence the name “the City of David”).
The artifacts of that period, including those revealing a biblical Jewish past, are located beneath the houses and streets of Wadi Hilweh. However, Silwan history is also about its strategic location at historical crossroads which has witnessed other civilizations that have controlled Jerusalem, often for periods lasting several centuries. Consequently, the settler-led excavations in Wadi Hilweh have uncovered layers dating to the Canaanite period, roads built during Byzantine rule, and a large Umayyad palace that was built in the 7th century AD, at the beginning of the Muslim period.
2. The Epicenter of the Conflict: From Territorial Skirmishing to the Clash of Narratives
The powerful religious and historical associations with ancient biblical history, and its proximity to the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, are at the core of the beliefs and ideology of East Jerusalem settler organizations, most particularly the Elad settler organization of Silwan. The settlers do not hide their objectives: to transform Silwan/the City of David into an extension of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, which is also intimately linked to the Western Wall. The houses, excavations, parks and trails in the settlement synergistically recreate a pseudo-Biblical realm – a realm which is at the heart of their interpretation of Zionism and the transcendent significance of the creation of the State of Israel.
Consequently, the City of David has become the flagship and priority of the whole settlement enterprise in East Jerusalem, and beyond.
The aggressive settlers’ efforts in Silwan, and the support they have received from the government, have turn Silwan into the ultimate symbol to the Palestinians of the most egregious settlement, where history has been abused and manipulated in order to justify an increasingly repressive occupation which marginalizes not only their contemporary community, but their past.
For this reason, Silwan has become not only an arena for territorial skirmishing, but the site where the competing Muslim/Palestinian narratives associated with al Aqsa and Haram al Sharif clash with the Jewish/Israeli narratives of biblical Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Given the inordinate significance attributed to these sites in Judaism and Islam (and to an extent Christianity), Silwan is the place where the tectonic plates of these civilization collide, in a space no larger than thirty acres (120 dunams).
3. The Symbiosis between the Settlers of Silwan and the Government of Israel
The settlement enterprise in Silwan has been prioritized not only by the settlers, but by the Government of Israel. The symbiosis between the settlers and the government (examined in detail below) is reflected, among else, in the collusion with settlers in displacing Palestinian residents, the harnessing of the planning regime in order to accelerate the development of a biblically driven settlement realm while stifling any Palestinian development, in the delegation of governmental powers to settler bodies, most prominently but not exclusively in the public domain, in the allocation of private security guards costing millions of taxpayer dollars, and most recently, Knesset legislation drafted by and for the exclusive benefit of the Silwan settlers.
Furthermore, there is barely a governmental or municipal body – the Israel Land Authority, the Absentee Property Custodian, the Planning Committees, the Police, the Nature and Parks Authority, the Antiquities Authority, etc. – which is not driven by the ideological DNA of the settlers (see our analysis on the 2016 State Comptroller’s report). Obversely, many of the governmental and municipal authorities have been outsourced to the setters. For example, all of the archeological excavations – at some of the most important sites in the world – take place under the direct or indirect auspices of the settlers. In the manner described, the distinction between the public interest that governmental and municipal authorities are supposed to protect, and the sectarian and material interests of the settlers no longer exists.
C. How did the settlement in Silwan evolve?
With Jerusalem increasingly becoming the epicenter of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and with Silwan becoming the most volatile and sensitive settlement in Jerusalem, taking a hard look on how the settlement in Silwan evolved is essential to understanding the events of recent weeks. Those seeking a more detailed analysis are referred to the chapter dealing with Silwan in our comprehensive study The Israeli Settlement Enterprise in East Jerusalem, 1967-2017, which can be viewed and downloaded here.
1. Stage I: The House to House Combat, 1985-2001
Beginning in the mid-1980s, a covert and coordinated Government campaign, often involving illegal or irregular exercise of governmental authority, began to “acquire” targeted properties in Silwan, most often unbeknownst to the Palestinians residing in them. This campaign was carried in active collusion with the settlers, to whom all the properties were transferred, en bloc. This campaign came out of the shadows in October 1991 when, in a single night and without warning, the settlers took over – in semi-military fashion – eleven Palestinian residential units in Wadi Hilweh/City of David.
Upon becoming Prime Minister in 1992, Yitzhak Rabin established a governmental board of inquiry, the Klugman Committee, commissioned to examine the settlements policies in East Jerusalem. After the Klugman Committee submitted a devastating report detailing the systematic and unlawful abuse of governmental authorities in collusion with and in the service of the settlers, the Government adopted a series of decisions geared to prevent the recurrence of government sponsored seizures of Palestinian property.
Most of the Government’s resolutions were never implemented. That said, although government support of the settlers’ “house to house” combat continued, it has since become more sporadic. While, to this day, most of the settler holdings in Silwan derive from the period of covert activity which took place between 1985 and 1992, most of the settlers’ takeovers are based today on private purchases made by one of the wealthiest NGOs in the country, the Elad settler organization.
As of 2019, there are approximately 5,000-6,000 Palestinians and 400 Israeli settlers living in Wadi Hilweh/City of David (figures based on the best available official and unofficial sources). Approximately 90% of the houses are still in the possession of Palestinians, but as we shall now see, virtually all of the public spaces controlled or owned by the Government, including parks and archeological sites, are under the direct or indirect control of the settlers.
2. Stage II: The Struggle for the Public Domain in Silwan and Beyond
After the covert Government campaign to take over Palestinian properties was seriously curtailed by the Klugman Committee report, the settlers shifted tactics, focusing their efforts on gaining control over the public domain in Silwan/City of David. While private settler acquisitions of Palestinian properties proceeded (and still proceed) on a piecemeal basis, by far the most consequential development in recent years has been the settlers’ success in gaining control of archeological and touristic sites and facilities, as well as national parks, exploited to expand the hegemony of their settlement in Silwan.
As of 2017, the Silwan settlers, working in concert with the Israel Antiquities Authority, fund and control, directly or indirectly, all of the active archeological excavations in and around Silwan, including some of the most important in the world, among them:
- archeological excavations at the Siloam Pool, the Warren Shaft, the Elad Visitors’ Center, the Ophel, and the Kedem complex, in addition to the tunnel complex under discussion.
- the City of David National Park - directly “managed” by the Elad settler organization;
- the construction of alarge settler complex opposite the Dung Gate (the Kedem/Givati Parking Lots Complex);
- a planned cable car from Abu Tor and the Mount of Olives to Silwan, aspire to physically integrate the City of David into Israeli Jerusalem.
It was not only the slower pace of acquiring new houses that motivated the settlers in Silwan to transfer the center of gravity of their efforts to the public domain. It was a clear reflection of the very raison d'être of their entire initiative: to turn the Silwan’s landscape and the below-ground excavations into the means by which they are recreating their pseudo-Biblical realm built atop part of the historic location of ancient biblical Jerusalem.
The map above displays the national parks, publicly owned lands and archeological excavations under the direct or indirect control of the Silwan settlers.
3. A Pattern not Limited to Silwan
The effort to establish the primacy of the historic Jewish narrative while marginalizing Palestinian, Christian and Muslim equities has not been limited to Silwan. The Silwan tunnel is indeed unique, but it is also an expression of a coherent and ambitious governmental plan to dominate the character of the public domain in the visual basin of the Old City.
This plan was launched in 2005 by a cabinet decision of the Sharon government. It consisted of an eight year plan with an annual budget in excess of $20,000,000, with the euphemistically defined goal of “strengthening the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”. From Sheikh Jarrah, to the Mount of Olives, from Silwan to Jabl Mukabber, the visual basin of the Old City is dotted with projects created under the Sharon Plan.
More specifically, in 2019, the budget allocated for the construction of the Silwan tunnel is approximately 40,000,000 sheqels (more than $11,000,000 US).
For further details, see our full report from March 2018 “The Israeli Government’s Creation of a Settler Realm in and around Jerusalem's Old City”.
As noted in our report, these settlement-related schemes have accelerated in recent years, as displayed by the map below.
PART II: SILWAN TUNNEL AND ITS HISTORICAL, ARCHEOLOGICAL AND POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE
A. What and where is the Silwan Tunnel?
The Silwan Tunnel is a subterranean complex that leads from the Pool of Siloam under the Palestinian homes of the Wadi Hilweh and the southern ramparts of the Old City, ending under the Western Wall Plaza at the southwest corner of the containment wall of the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. It is important to note: contrary to persistent rumors to the contrary, the containment wall on the perimeter of esplanade of Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount is nowhere breached by the tunnel.
The complex is made up of a road, drainage ditches and sewage channels, apparently deriving from the Roman Period in Jerusalem, at which time the Second Temple indeed existed. It was first discovered by archeologists in the beginning of the 20th century. More than a decade ago, the Elad settler organization initiated unauthorized excavations that uncovered the complex, which were only later were they continued in coordination with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
B. The Problematic Ethics and Methodology of the Excavations
There can be little doubt, if any, that these specific findings date from the Roman Period, at a time when the Temple was the focus of Jewish pilgrimage. However, as prominent Israeli archeologist, Prof. Yoram Tsafrir, has noted, little of scientific value has been published about the findings revealed by the excavations. Consequently, caution should be exercised in describing precisely when and for what purposes each of the components of this complex of roads, channels and ditches was created.
Furthermore, the excavations raise very disturbing methodological and ethical concerns as to how the excavations have been carried out, and the uses and abuses of its findings in the service of the settler ideology.
The excavations have taken place 3-4 meters below the surface, under the privately owned homes of the Palestinian residents. Their consent was neither sought nor extended. The excavations require massive steel support structures – but the work has been carried out without a building permit, under the pretext that this is not the construction of a massive, subterranean complex doubling as a tourist attraction, but rather an archeological excavation. Cracks and other structural damage to Palestinian homes, and occasional sink holes on the surface, have accompanied the excavations.
The methodology of the excavation has been widely criticized, particularly in regard to the use of lateral excavations, which is viewed as unscientific and destructive. Even officials in the Antiquities Authority have called this dubious methodology “bad archeology”, adding that “that “the Authority could not be proud of this excavation”.
The decision to hand the excavations over to settlers devoted exclusively to highlighting a Jewish past, their failure to report new findings of scientific value, the use of dubious scientific methodology, and the lack of the Palestinian owners’ consent are all interrelated. It demonstrates that in Silwan, the settlers’ ends justify otherwise unthinkable archeological means.
C. The Weaponization of Archeology
The archeological excavations in Silwan, and in particular the excavarion of the tunnel, is a stark example of a broader phenomenon taking place in and around Jerusalem’s Old City: the harnessing of archeologly to advance the goals of the biblically motivated settlers, politicizing archeological science and fetishizing its findings.
Meron Benvenisti, one Israel’s prominent historians and geographers and a keen observer of contemporary Jerusalem has noted:
“Unplanned, and costing both human life and many millions of sheqels, a vast network of tunnels were created which allow for a visit to subterranean Jerusalem, that extends from what has become known as the City of David to the northern ramparts of the Old City. This underground city weaves a fabricated narrative – a Disneyland, really – that is designed to expunge thousands of years of non-Jewish history and create a purportedly direct link between the Second Temple Period until today. In this manner sewage ditches and moldy cellars are transformed into sacred sites and fabricated historical Jewish sites, with those who traverse it not encountering the embarrassing reality that reveals an Old City and Temple Mount teeming with Palestinians, in which the "city square" [as it appears in Naomi Shemer’s iconic song, "Jerusalem of Gold"] is once again devoid of Arabs”.
Meron Benvenisti, The Dream of the White Sabra, [Hebrew] Jerusalem, 2005, p. 253 (translation by TJ).
Choosing the significant, albeit mundane complex of roads and channels and elevating them to the status of a semi-sacred “Pilgrimage Road” has indeed little to do with archeology or a commitment to the historical truths embedded in and under Jerusalem and everything to do with promoting an exclusionary Biblical narrative that poses a grave threat to the Palestinian residents of Silwan. In the hands of the settlers, these excavations declare: we were here before you, our history is longer than yours, our sites more important historically and more sacred in the eyes of God. The equities of others are marginal at best.
Part III: The Official US Participation in the Opening Ceremony
A. Is the participation of the US Envoy Greenblatt and Ambassador Friedman unprecedented?
Yes. While US officials have frequently visited Silwan for purposes of monitoring, none have done so with the settlers, for the simple reason that the US has until now consistently viewed the Silwan settlement as illegitimate, and problematic in the extreme. For example, when settler took over additional homes in 2014, the White House charged that “this development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations, and call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”
Hence, the participation of the US officials in the June 30 ceremony constitutes a formal embrace of a settlement and settler organization previously shunned by successive US administrations since the settlers first entered Silwan in 1991.
B. How does US recognition of the Silwan settlement fit into broader US policies?
The US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem was accompanied by two apparently contradictory pronouncements. On the one hand, Secretary of State Tillerson clarified that these moves "did not indicate any final status for Jerusalem" and that it "was very clear that the final status, including the borders, would be left to the two parties to negotiate and decide." On the other hand, President Trump stated, in his own voice, precisely the opposite, emphasizing that by these moves, “…Jerusalem had been taken off the table”.
The official US participation in the ceremony is a clear indication that the latter statement – that Jerusalem is no longer a permanent status issue – now dominates official US policy.
At the opening ceremony, Ambassador Friedman said as much: “This place is as much a heritage of the US as it is a heritage of Israel.” In a press interview, when asked if there was any prospect of the City of David being ceded to the Palestinians in a future permanent status agreement, Friedman responded: “"It would be akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty." His colleague Jason Greenblatt later asserted in a briefing to the UN Security Council that “...it is true that the PLO and the Palestinian Authority continue to assert that East Jerusalem must be a capital for the Palestinians,” […] “But let’s remember, an aspiration is not a right.”
All of this leaves little doubt that the United States embraces the Israeli claims to Jerusalem and the settler narrative in Silwan, while marginalizing or ignoring the Palestinian equities in Jerusalem.
None of this augurs well for the fate of the Trump plan, if and when it will be published. Regardless of all of its other provisions, if the plan fails to deal with Palestinian national rights in East Jerusalem, including Silwan, any such plan will be a pre-ordained failure. However much certain Sunni states wish to support the plan – and a number of them are eager to - Jerusalem simply will not let them.
C. What are the underlying forces that led to US participation in the ceremony?
The US participation in the opening ceremony discloses a quantum shift in the US policy, that goes beyond this administration’s almost axiomatic support of Netanyahu’s policies, and is in large part shaped by the beliefs of President Trump’s core supporters: the end-of-days dispensationalist evangelical Christians.
Hence, the ideological affinity between the Trump administration and the settler movement is by no means coincidental but rather illustrate the strategic bond between end-of-days Christians and biblically-driven settlers. This was on full display at the annual summit of the powerful rightwing evangelical movement, Christian Friends of Israel (CUFI), where both Friedman and Greenblatt were praised for the opening of the tunnel and castigation of the Palestinians for criticizing the opening. CUFI has long been fervent supporters of the Silwan settlers, and intimately familiar with the underground tunneling. While mutual suspicion between the settlers and evangelicals lurk just below the surface, they have find natural allies in one another.
It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this unnatural alliance. Ironically, neither Trump nor Netanyahu can in any way be described as men of faith, but their respective policies are driven by biblical and messianic ideologies in ways never witnessed before.
D. Will the US Participation in the Ceremony Legitimize the Settlement in Silwan?
In all likelihood, no.
When the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem, 128 member states of the UN condemned the move. While the recognition and the move of the embassy were geared to create a new international consensus legitimizing sole Israeli rule over Jerusalem, it achieved the opposite, highlighting US and Israeli isolation in the face of broad international consensus that the permanent status of Jerusalem will be determined only in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
A similar dynamic is in play in Silwan. There was virtually no support for the US participation in the ceremony in the international community. It merely reinforced the perception that the US had forfeited its role as broker for the sake of becoming an avid supporter of Netanyahu and his policies. As with the embassy move, the participation in the event was yet another US act of self-inflicted marginalization.
A similar pattern emerged in the arena of public opinion. The public image of the Silwan settlement tends to fluctuate, both domestically and internationally. Initially, the Israeli public and diaspora Jewry tended to view the settlement as dangerous provocation carried out by extremists. The settlers devoted their efforts to turn the powerful imagery of biblical Jerusalem into a vehicle for turning them into part of a broad consensus. In large part they succeeded. The names of the dignitaries and celebrities, both local and from abroad, who have visited the Silwan settlement create an impressive “Who’s Who”.
But the settlers have never been able to entirely rid themselves of their image of religiously motivated fanatics. The controversy surrounding the official US participation in the opening of the tunnel was widely reported in the Israeli and international press as a highly problematic provocation, and was generally not embraced as a benign, innocent celebration of the Jewish past.
E. Will US participation in the ceremony embolden Israel and the settlers?
Not directly. Over time? Perhaps.
For many years, the settlers in Silwan have enjoyed the massive support of the Government of Israel and the Jerusalem Municipality. It is hard to imagine them receiving more support than they already receive.
That said, the shift in US policy may accelerate the emergence of a new and ominous development regarding the settlements in East Jerusalem: the large-scale displacement of Palestinians.
As problematic as the settlement enterprise in East Jerusalem is, it has, with one glaring exception, taken place without large-scale evictions or displacement of Palestinians (the sole exception being the razing of 135 houses in the Mughrabi quarter of the Old City on June 10, 1967, and the displacement of its residents). Hence, neither the creation of large settlement neighborhoods in East Jerusalem nor the creation of the settlement enclaves (like in Silwan) have entailed the eviction, en bloc, and displacement of tens of targeted Palestinian families. Rather, these enclaves were established based on a “house-by-house” effort. This is now changing. Israel has begun implementing policies widely viewed as a war crime: the forceful displacement of a civilian population under occupation.
These policies are being carried out in two locations in East Jerusalem: in the Batan al Hawa quarter of Silwan (across the Wadi from Silwan) and in Sheikh Jarrah. In each of these neighborhoods, the Government of Israel has instituted or backed legal proceedings that threaten to displace thousands of Palestinians.
The US participation in the Silwan tunnel ceremony clearly conveys that Israel can proceed with these evictions with impunity. After all, as the envoy Greenblatt has so candidly asserted: “…he has never had any reason to criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the Israeli government for their policies on the Palestinians”. There is little reason to believe that these new policies of forced displacement will elicit a different response from this administration.
In contrast, key member states in the EU are monitoring these developments with growing concern. Their engagement will be key to deter Israel from implementing this new policy.
F. The Impact of the Silwan Tunnel on the Conflict in Jerusalem
1. Will the Tunnel and its Opening Foment Violence?
It is generally not geopolitical events like this that trigger violence in Jerusalem, but rather a real or perceived violation of the integrity of sacred space. As potent a symbol as Silwan is for both Palestinians and Israelis, and its intimate connection to holy sites, it is not in and of itself perceived as a holy site. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that the opening ceremony was not accompanied by an outbreak of violence.
That said, the opening of the tunnel is part and parcel of powerful trends that are generating despair and hopelessness among the Palestinians of East Jerusalem that is likely unprecedented in both scope and intensity. Hopelessness is the ultimate destabilizer – but it is a destabilization that takes effect in months and years, and not in days and weeks.
The state of acute disequilibrium that currently characterizes the conflict can only find a new balance through a credible political process or an outbreak of convulsive violence. The despair exacerbated by recent events in Silwan have brought closer the prospect of the latter.
2. What Impact Will the Events in Silwan Have on the Nature of the Conflict in Jerusalem?
While unprecedented, the US participation in the Silwan tunnel ceremony is neither an isolated incident nor a turning point. It is a powerful embodiment of trends that are increasingly shaping the nature of the conflict in Jerusalem: religious radicalization. For twenty years and more, Jerusalem have been witnessing the ascendancy of religious movements that “weaponize” faith, and whose claims to the city are exclusionary, absolute and often incendiary.
Among Israelis, the prime examples are to be found among the biblically motivated settlers in and around the Old City, and in the messianic Temple Mount movement seeking to radically change the status quo on the Mount. Among Palestinians, it is the Muslim Brotherhood and its various iterations, who promulgate their own vision of religious conflict; and among the Christians, it is to be found in the increasingly powerful end-of-days, dispensationalist evangelicals, for whom Jerusalem is the arena in which the approaching rapture will unfold.
“Netanyahu’s Christians” are no longer the Holy See, the Orthodox Churches and the mainline Protestant movement, but rather Pastor Hagee and Christians United for Israel – who are also the core of Trump’s political base.
It is no longer socially acceptable in large parts of Palestinian and Israeli societies to speak respectfully of the religious equities of others, including and most prominently among the respective political leaderships. The discourse is one of mutual denial where statements like these are commonplace: “The Jews have no attachment to the Temple Mount, and should look for their past elsewhere”, or “the Muslim belief in the sanctity of Jerusalem is a recent, artificial construct”.
This pattern characterizes some of the Palestinian responses to the opening of the Tunnel. Their assertion that archeology is being abused in service of doubling down-on on the Israeli occupation of Silwan is more than legitimate. But the criticism goes beyond that, implying that there is no Jewish history in Silwan. Saeb Erekat asserted: "[The tunnel] has nothing to do with religion, it is fake. It's a settlement project. It's based on a lie that has nothing to do with history." US envoy retorted on Twitter: “PA claims our attendance at this historic event supports “Judaization” of Jerusalem/is an act of hostility vs. Palestinians. Ludicrous. We can’t “Judaize” what history/archeology show. We can acknowledge it & you can stop pretending it isn’t true!”
This frenzy of mutual denial not only undermines the historical, religious and cultural integrity of Jerusalem. It morphs a national-political conflict that can ultimately be resolved through statecraft and diplomacy into a zero-sum and unresolvable holy war.
These trends of radicalization are not new, nor were they created by the tunnel or the US officially participating in its opening. It is however stark evidence that, for the first time, weaponized religion is having a major impact on the formulation of policy in Washington and Jerusalem (and to a lesser extent in Ramallah) regarding the volatile epicenter of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Jerusalem.