Silwan: Biblical Archaeology, Cultural Appropriation, and Settler Colonialism
Wadi Hilwa
“City of David”
Old City of Jerusalem
house demolition
ethnic cleansing
settler colonialism
biblical archaeology
Emek Shaveh

Archaeological excavations in the village of Silwan, southeast of the Old City of Jerusalem, began more than 150 years ago and have revealed multiple layers of civilizations dating from as early as the fifth millennium BCE until modern times. The site was identified by some European and Israeli archaeologists as the biblical “King David’s city” of about three thousand years ago, yet no significant remains from this period were unearthed. Since the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has implemented policies aimed at imposing a Jewish demographic majority and strengthening its control over the city. Since the early 1990s, the Israeli authorities, and their satellite right-wing settler organizations, have been immersed in a large-scale project in Silwan: the establishment of a Jewish colony with a biblical-archaeological theme park for tourism in the heart of the village. The strategy to achieve this project is two-fold: to carry out extensive archaeological excavations in order to uncover structures and artifacts that are related to “biblical” times, particularly from King David’s reign; and to appropriate and demolish hundreds of homes, forcibly displace their Palestinian residents, and replace them with Jewish settlers. This article focuses on how Israel weaponizes archaeology to create an invented “biblical” narrative centered on the so-called “City of David” to justify its settler-colonial project in Silwan. This contradicts the ethics of accepted archaeological practice and presents a biased narrative of the site as “biblical” and “Jewish,” while ignoring its diverse multi-faceted history.

Author biography: 

Mahmoud Hawari holds an MA and PhD from the University of London and currently teaches at Bethlehem University. He was former director of the Palestinian Museum, lead curator at the British Museum, and a senior research associate at University of Oxford. He has also taught at Birzeit and al-Quds universities, and led numerous local and international projects. He has published widely in his research fields of interests, archaeology and the cultural heritage of Palestine.