Jerusalem skyline
View of Jerusalem from Mt. Olives, on a border tour with the Geneva Initiative

Recently there was a travel post over at Landlopers.com about the archaeological City of David site in Jerusalem. Because Matt refuses to post the entirety of my comments on his post** (understandably it’s his blog, his rules) I figured I better write about it too so that any tourist who wants to visit Israel could be a little better informed. Lucky for me, I’ve got a travel blog myself and I might as well use my soapbox while I’ve got it. I’ve been meaning to write about traveling responsibly in Israel for a while, and this just reminded me to get on it.

So, what is the City of David?

The City of David ”is the oldest settled neighborhood of Jerusalem and a major archaeological site,” according to Wikipedia. It is believed to be the place where King David built his palace and where Biblical kings and prophets lived and visited. Today it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Israel and a site of major archaeological excavations.

Where exactly is the City of David located and who is it run by?

The City of David is located in the Palestinian village of Silwan, just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Silwan is home to over 40,000 Palestinians, and was annexed by Israel in 1967, following the Six Day War, along with other Palestinian villages and neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

The City of David tourist site, as well as the archaeological excavations, are run by the Elad Foundation, whose goal is to achieve Jewish presence in Palestinian areas in Jerusalem.

Why is the City of David a controversial tourist site?

The consensus today is that if there’s ever a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, it will recognize a Palestinian state whose capital is East Jerusalem (that is, the parts of Jerusalem whose major population is Palestinian). So the dividing of Jerusalem will be based on demographics, and changing the demographics means more areas will be part of an Israeli Jerusalem city.

The Elad foundation not only runs the excavations, but also is constantly attaining more and more houses in Silwan, driving the Palestinians out of their homes and inhabiting them with Jews. Some houses were simply bought, but others were attained by allegedly using fraudulent documents. Jews residing in the midst of a Palestinian population also require the presence of military and police forces to guard now Jewish homes. Many Palestinians see this as a provocation; it stirs up the sensitive situation and escalates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Silwan—City of David situation is very complex, and a lot more could be written about it, but the point is this: by visiting the City of David you are supporting and funding Jewish settlements, the deportation of Palestinians and the destruction of the prospect of a peace settlement that will end the conflict. I’m not saying this makes you a bad person, but I believe, as a responsible tourist you should be aware of the effects of your actions.

60 Minutes did an excellent piece about Silwan and the City of David site last October. It’s well worth 15 minutes of your time and I’ve embedded the link to the video below. The increasingly popular Sheikh Jarrah solidarity movement also recently created a flyer, explaining why the “Israeli” City of David site is controversial for tourism. Some people wrongly view the Sheikh Jarrah nonviolent protests as “extrreme” but this is an incredibly incorrect assumption. In fact, many others have lauded the movement’s ability to promote peace and make a difference using nonviolence. (Watch a great TED video in support of nonviolent, peaceful protests in Israel.)

What can I do?

The best part about being a responsible traveler is not that you can make informed decisions, but that you can make informed decisions *and then* do something with what you’ve learned.

For example, there are a lot of travel blogs writing about Burma and a lot of them touch on the subject of responsible travel because of the travel restrictions and controversial government. The Guardian wrote about traveling responsibly in Burma and I think that article provides a good guide of how you can visit controversial sites and places (even ones whose policies you—or the international community—do not believe in) and still come away as a decent human being. It’s just about understanding what you’re doing, learning about what’s happening where you’re visiting (from as many perspectives as you can gather) and then from sharing your personal truth.

Burma was a country I understood very little about before I started reading about it on other travelers’ travel blogs. Because it’s such a popular topic (and discussed prominently on a plethora of travel websites), I now know a hell of a lot more about the Burmese government and the Burmese people. And though I haven’t visited the country, I’d like to think I’m much better informed than I was six months ago. See what sharing what you learn can do? Words have power.

So, back to Israel and responsible travel.

One of the most insightful travel tips I got upon first arriving in Israel was from my Couchsurfing host in Jerusalem, an independent journalist in Israel. I was interested in learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his advice to me was simply to visit the places and talk to the people. He suggested I visit Palestinian cities and Israeli settlements. To talk to the people and hear what they had to say. To listen and to learn. And then to come up with my own conclusions.

That was one hell of a travel tip.

So, if you’re planning to travel and visit Israel, I hope you’ll take the time to read about the places you might visit. There are lots of Israeli and Palestinian organizations that run “study” tours around the country. Ir Amim offers tours around Jerusalem (in Hebrew and in English), where they discuss some of the many conflicts happening in and around the city. If you decide to see & visit controversial places for yourself, be sure to get as much understanding out of it as possible. And if you’ve got your own soapbox, for God’s sake, use it responsibly and use it fairly.

**UPDATE 29-04-11: Though Matt published my comments as soon as this post went live, it seems he changed his mind a day later and removed all my comments from his posts on Israel. He’s notified me that he won’t include links to certain websites in comments on his site, though he assures me he continues to encourage discussion on his posts. However, he has also blocked all forms of communication from me, despite the fact that we once were friendly.

Also, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement just started a Letter Campaign to have the entry for the City of David either removed or amended from the Lonely Planet Israel guidebook to include information about the actions of the Elad organization. You can find information on the petition here: Letter Campaign: Exposing ELAD – Revealing the Truth. It was also recently reported by the Jerusalem Post in this article: To Lonely Planet: Include Arab history on City of David

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Disclosures

  1. I met Matt from Landlopers while he was in Israel on his one week holiday last October. We visited the holocaust memorial together and I even showed him my favorite Jerusalem cafe. He’s a nice guy and I have a lot of respect for him and his travel website. This post is not meant to be an attack on his beliefs or his travels in Israel, just a response.
  2. While I may be critical of particular Israelis and the Israeli government, I do in fact believe in Israel’s current right to exist as a state.
  3. During my four months in Tel Aviv, I did a volunteer-internship with the Geneva Initiative. The Geneva Initiative is an Israeli-Palestinian nonprofit organization that promotes a two-state solution: Israel as a Jewish state and Palestine as a demilitarized Arab state; with Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and West Jerusalem (with blocs of the surrounding largest Jewish settlements) as the capital of an Israeli state. My beliefs for an Israeli/Palestinian peace solution is (like most people’s) a little more complicated than could be summarized in a few sentences, so if you’d like to discuss this personally just give me a shout.

Please note some posts do make me some money but I never sacrifice my integrity in exchange for a favorable review. Read the full disclosure policy.

20 comments

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  1. Pingback: Camping at Masada, Israel | Travels of Adam - Hipster travel around the world

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  3. Very very interesting post. I’ve been wondering about this when people tell me they’re visiting Jeruselum

    • Thanks for commenting Roy. There are a lot of different parts to Jerusalem and this is just a small story of the much bigger picture.

  4. Matt

    You’re obviously anti-Semitic, and I won’t engage anymore.

    • Uh oh! Are you also (like many Israelis) unable to distinguish between legitimate criticism toward the Israeli government and hatred based purely on race?

      I, for instance, am Israeli, Jewish, and might even be called a Zionist under certain terms, but I certainly disapprove of any occupation and oppression my government does to the Palestinian people, and I strongly object to any violation of human rights, which happens every day, every hour, in the occupied territories. I’m sorry, but this doesn’t make me an anti-Semite.

  5. Like the whole Israel-Palestine issue, there is no real right answer on this subject. I am glad to see a spirited debate without name calling, which is how this argument usually ends. I spent a month in Israel in May of 2010. I visited Hebron in the West Bank which was an eye-opening experience. My plan was to visit The City of David the next day. I was asked by a gentleman I met in Hebron to forgo the visit until I read more about the situation. I’m glad I did and I ended up not visiting it at all. This wasn’t an extreme political statement, just a small one that made me feel better. I’m sure in the 26 days I spent there I visited plenty of sites pro-Palestinian groups would have preferred I not visit, so it all evens out.

    You guys both have very intelligent and interesting blogs to read. Thanks for the discourse.

    • Hi Erik,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience in Israel, the West Bank, and specifically Hebron.

      Good travel advice for anywhere has always been to listen to the locals, so it’s nice to read of how you were asked not to visit the City of David.

      Thanks again!

  6. Great post Adam. It is very easy to be oblivious to any politics or city boundaries while visiting Jerusalem, but this post is a great reminder of the plight of Palestinians. And it is necessary that the voice of moderate Palestinians is heard, as it is almost always the extremist that get airtime on the media.

    • Thanks for the kind comment Johann.

      It’s almost always the extremists, in Israel and in Palestinian territories, that get the most attention, when in actuality many people are fully supportive of peace and compromise.

    • Thanks for the kind comment Johann.

      It’s almost always the extremists, in Israel and in Palestinian territories, that get the most attention, when in actuality many people are fully supportive of peace and compromise.

  7. Cicero

    I had no idea that the City of David was in Palestine territory. You just taught me something new here. I will be watching this video as soon as I wake up. Nice Entry mate!

    -Charles(Cicero)

    • Jerusalem–being an important place in history for a very, very long time–is definitely more interesting than most people can imagine.

  8. Cicero

    I had no idea that the City of David was in Palestine territory. You just taught me something new here. I will be watching this video as soon as I wake up. Nice Entry mate!

    -Charles(Cicero)

  9. Matt

    Adam,
    Cheers to you for broaching a very difficult topic. Just to be clear, I wasn’t blocking your comments. It took me a few days to even realize that you had left a follow up comment, as all comments that include links are automatically sent to my spam folder. When I did realize you had posted, I hesitated, even though I ultimately released the comment. I’ll explain why.

    I have spent decades studying the Middle East peace process and indeed people have devoted their entire lives to trying to understand, and help, foster better understanding in the region.

    While I think you are trying to say that your position is centrist and the way responsible travelers should think, it is in fact fairly extremist. You say that there is a consensus that a solution will include the division of Jerusalem. I know of no such consensus. Two-state solution, yes, divided Jerusalem? No, not so much.

    You also write in some detail about the Palestinian side of the story, but not so much the Israeli. You haven’t mentioned the attacks against Israelis in Silwan and elsewhere, thus the need for the security presence. And I think it is fairly irresponsible to say that by visiting the City of David that one is threatening the peace process. That could be extrapolated indefinitely to include the whole of Israel or the Palestinian Authority.

    I am not trying to attack you, I think you’re a great person. Like you said, it’s important to get both sides of the story, but I don’t think that’s been given here.

    • Matt,
      A few things:
      1. Thank you for finally posting my comment, though you claim on your site that the first attempt at commenting was lost and I don’t believe that.
      2. You say you hesitated to post my comment but decided to ultimately release it. You also said that you’re a busy person hence the delay. While I’m sure you are busy and important (aren’t we all), I notice it didn’t take you long at all to release my comment as soon as this post was published. Regardless, thank you for releasing it. I believe an open policy on blogging & commenting is one of the best ways to forward conversation and thinking.
      3. If believing in a two-state solution with Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem going to a Jewish Israeli state, and Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem going to an Arab state is radical, than I’d be very interested to hear your opinions on the truly radical ideas out there (the one-state solution, the BDS?)
      4. A “divided” Jerusalem has been a part of peace proposals since the 90s from what I know. I believe the January Wikileaks release of the “Palestine Papers” also described the secret negotiations between Olmert & Palestinian negotiators regarding the splitting of Jerusalem (link: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/netanyahu-s-aides-leaked-papers-prove-palestinian-demands-for-jerusalem-are-ridiculous-1.338962)
      5. Perhaps it is a bit extreme to say by visiting the City of David you’re compromising peace. However, the City of David is currently managed by a right-wing organization (the Elad organization) whose goals are completely antithetical to any peace proposal between Israelis & Palestinians. And there are currently many people around the world who support the BDS movement which supports a boycott of Israel.
      6. I’m very glad to hear you’ve spent decades studying the Middle East and the peace process. I hope next time you visit Israel that you’ll take the time to get to know the Palestinian narrative first-hand and visit some of the sites and cities you purport to know about.

      Adam

    • Matt,
      A few things:
      1. Thank you for finally posting my comment, though you claim on your site that the first attempt at commenting was lost and I don’t believe that.
      2. You say you hesitated to post my comment but decided to ultimately release it. You also said that you’re a busy person hence the delay. While I’m sure you are busy and important (aren’t we all), I notice it didn’t take you long at all to release my comment as soon as this post was published. Regardless, thank you for releasing it. I believe an open policy on blogging & commenting is one of the best ways to forward conversation and thinking.
      3. If believing in a two-state solution with Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem going to a Jewish Israeli state, and Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem going to an Arab state is radical, than I’d be very interested to hear your opinions on the truly radical ideas out there (the one-state solution, the BDS?)
      4. A “divided” Jerusalem has been a part of peace proposals since the 90s from what I know. I believe the January Wikileaks release of the “Palestine Papers” also described the secret negotiations between Olmert & Palestinian negotiators regarding the splitting of Jerusalem (link: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/netanyahu-s-aides-leaked-papers-prove-palestinian-demands-for-jerusalem-are-ridiculous-1.338962)
      5. Perhaps it is a bit extreme to say by visiting the City of David you’re compromising peace. However, the City of David is currently managed by a right-wing organization (the Elad organization) whose goals are completely antithetical to any peace proposal between Israelis & Palestinians. And there are currently many people around the world who support the BDS movement which supports a boycott of Israel.
      6. I’m very glad to hear you’ve spent decades studying the Middle East and the peace process. I hope next time you visit Israel that you’ll take the time to get to know the Palestinian narrative first-hand and visit some of the sites and cities you purport to know about.

      Adam

    • The world sees the Israeli control over east Jerusalem as illegal, so there’s a world consensus that Israel needs to withdraw from east Jerusalem, and that any peace settlement must include Al-Quds as the capital of a Palestinian state.

      Most Israelis, by the way, don’t even know where east Jerusalem is, they couldn’t name more than one neighborhood in east Jerusalem and needless to say, they will never go there. Israelis have nothing to look for in Sur Baher, in Ras El-Amud or in Shuafat, for instance. Calling those places “Jerusalem” is semantics. Most Israelis don’t care if those places are part of a Palestinian capital names Al-Quds. Again it’s all semantics. By the way, Jerusalem is ALREADY divided, by the illegal West Bank barrier (aka the separation fence), which cuts up Ras El-Amud in half.

      If you’re mentioning the attacks against Israelis in Silwan, you can also ask why there were attacks in the first place. But the who started it discussion is childish and stupid. The fact is that there’s a big presence of army and police in Silwan who spray tear gas all over the neighborhood, including into people’s houses. There are also already some streets which Palestinians are not allowed to use at certain times.

      Silwan is on its way to become the second Hebron, and giving money to Elad supports that.

      By the way, you may have posted Adam’s comment, but you haven’t posted mine.

  10. Great write up Adam, thanks for sharing another point of view. I don’t know as much as I would like to about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but I do know it’s very complicated. Cheers to you for spending some time there and talking to the people to get their thoughts and hear their voice.

    I did recently watch a 1hr doc following Louis Theroux touring some of these areas where this re-population is happening. Worth a peek if you haven’t already. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12347050

    • Thanks for the comment Dustin.

      I’ve been meaning to catch the Theroux documentary for a while now but haven’t had the time (or bandwidth) to catch it online yet. I’ve heard really good things about it.

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