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City of David: The Struggle over Mount Zion, City of the Great King

“Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me.  We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.”  (Isaiah 8:18)

Mount Zion is a hill just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.  It is actually older than the Old City: it is the original city.

Jerusalem-Old City-Mount Zion-TempleMount

A view of the Old City of Jerusalem extending from Mount Zion at the left edge of the frame to the corner of the Temple Mount near the right edge.

The first time Zion is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures is in 2 Samuel 5:7, when David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites.

“David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David [Ir David].”  (2 Samuel 5:7)

Zion originally referred only to that ancient fortress and was called the City of David (2 Chronicles 5:2).

After Solomon built the First Temple on Mount Moriah, however, Zion came to refer to the Temple and its surrounding area and, later, the entire City of Jerusalem, which had expanded uphill and northward, beyond the original Mount Zion site.

Although ancient rabbinic commentaries describe the area of Mount Zion/ City of David as the center of the Land of Israel (Zamib i 5), today, the mostly Arab village of Silwan extends into Mount Zion, making the area the subject of hot dispute.

Western Wall-Jewish women-paper-prayer-spaces between the stones

A Jewish women places a prayer, written on slip of paper, between the massive stones of the Western (Wailing) Wall.  The spaces between the stones of the Wall are full of written prayer requests.

The Spring That Runs Through It: Silwan, Siloam, and Shiloach

The Arabic name Silwan comes from the Greek term Siloam, which is derived from the Hebrew name Shiloach.

Both the Arabic and Hebrew mean Gihon spring, which flows through the Kidron Valley that runs north-south between the Mount of Olives and the City of David on the southern edge of the Temple Mount.

Zion-Siloam-Silwan

An 1845 map of Ancient Jerusalem identifying Mount Zion with the Pool of Siloam beside it.  To the right of Mount Zion is the Hill of Offense, so named because Solomon built high places to false gods there.  Silwan is built on its steep western face and now extends down into the Kidron Valley (Valley of Jehoshaphat) and up to Mount Zion.  The Mount of Olives is the elevation just north of Silwan.

That spring once watered the king’s gardens below the palace walls on Mount Zion.  (2 Kings 25:4)

From the time of King Solomon’s reign through the reign of Hezekiah, water from the Gihon was brought up to the Temple on Mount Moriah for use in the sacrifices during God’s commanded feasts.

Psalm 48:2 calls Mount Zion the city of the great King.  It sounds majestic and it truly was in Solomon’s day when the First Temple stood in all its glory!

“Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.”  (Psalm 48:2)

City of David and the Mount of Olives

Silwan is located on a steep ridge southeast of the Temple Mount called the Ophel in Hebrew, which means climb, extending to the ridge of the southern peak of the Mount of Olives.

The original City of David was built on the Ophel ridge.  David’s palace was located on the crest and the people’s houses cascaded down the hill.  That slope, in fact, enabled King David to see Bathsheba bathing on her roof (2 Samuel 11:2).  (Jewishmag)

Today, houses still stretch down the hill, likely appearing much as they did in King David’s time.

Silwan-neighborhood-Jerusalem

The houses of Silwan

This stacked arrangement likely offered a defensive advantage during that period, enabling the Israelites to see their enemy climbing the hill to attack.

Although the ridge of the City of David had almost no housing in the mid-19th century, Jewish settlement did begin around 1874 when the Mayachus family moved there.  By 1884, a community of Yemenite Jews lived at the south end of Silwan.

During the British Mandate period (1920–1947), the Arab village of Silwan expanded into the City of David.

Jordan took that area of Jerusalem in the Israeli War of Independence (1948).  When Jordan and other Arab nations attacked Israel once again in 1967, Israel won the area back.

Kidron-Benei-Hezir-Zechariah

The Tomb of Zechariah (right) and the Tomb of Benei Hezir in the Kidron Valley.

Archaeological Proof of Jewish Roots

It has been known since the 19th century that the central area of Silwan was built upon an ancient cemetery of Judea’s elite, as attested to by roughly fifty rock-cut tombs found at the base of the village.

Many of these ancient tombs, which are scattered throughout Silwan and the surrounding area, have been incorporated into Arab housing and often the inscriptions have been effaced or damaged.

One of those tombs, which is incorporated into a modern-period house in Silwan, is thought to be of Shebna, King Hezekiah’s steward and treasurer.  (Isaiah 22:15–16)

Though Silwan has merited the attention of archaeologists, the Arab residents have long had a reputation for being “lawless, fanatical vagabonds,” and efforts to conduct a thorough survey by British archaeologist Charles Warren, who conducted the first major excavations of the Temple Mount, were thwarted.

“The people of Siloam are a lawless set, credited with being the most unscrupulous ruffians in Palestine,” he wrote.  (BAS)

Silwan-late 19th century-cave tombs

Silwan in the late 19th century with houses built directly on top of the cave tombs, left of the center.

Since Israel recovered East Jerusalem in 1967, archaeologists are uncovering evidence of the truth of the historical accounts in the Bible, as well as proof of the ancient roots of the Jewish People in Israel.

In 1968, the tombs of the Silwan neighborhood were surveyed.

In 2010, a team discovered a massive wall on the slope between the Temple Mount and Silwan dating back to the tenth century BC.  Nearby fragments of pottery were found with inscriptions such as “the king.”

This is proof of construction in the City of David during King Solomon’s time (1 Kings 3:1), which many Arabs do not accept.

“This is the first time a structure has been found that could conform to descriptions of King Solomon’s construction in Jerusalem,” stated Dr. Eilat Mazar, director of the joint dig by Hebrew University, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.  (Haaretz)

“And the king commanded them to quarry large stones, costly stones and hewn stones, to lay the foundation of the Temple.”  (1 Kings 5:17)

shaft-Warren-Zion-Jebusites

Warren’s Shaft, which was discovered in 1867 by Charles Warren, is thought to be the shaft through which King David conquered Mount Zion from the Jebusites.  (2 Samuel 5:6–10)

Another remarkable discovery during construction of the visitor center in 1997, unexpectedly uncovered two monumental towers that date back to the age of the kings of Judea: one protecting the base of Warren’s Shaft (a tunnel that allows access to the Gihon Spring from inside the city walls), and the other protecting the spring itself.

These archaeological discoveries inspired the City of Jerusalem to propose development of a National Park through the restoration of the valley floor.

They plan to recreate the area that once housed King Solomon’s gardens and call it the King’s Garden (Gan Hamelekh).  The waters of the Gihon will once again flow south along their ancient course.

City-David-model

A model of the City of David, which was located just south of the Temple Mount.

A Microcosm of the Bigger Picture

These plans have aroused anger, resentment and controversy in the community.

In a sense, Silwan is just a microcosm of the much larger conflict—a dispute over the Holy Land, one that has been ongoing since ancient times.

Part of the dispute over the City’s plans is that illegally built Arab homes would have to be demolished to make way for the park.

Although the City has offered to relocate the families to newly-built homes, the demolitions are being fought as the Arabs perceive that the underlying plan is to increase Israeli settlements in the area.

The Arabs of Silwan have, therefore, demanded legal permits for their existing, unauthorized homes, vowing, “We’ll never leave our homes.”  (JPost)

Housing-Silwan-1880-Hashiloach

Housing units built on Silwan’s barren hillside for Jews in the 1880s.

Fueling their anger, the non-profit organization called the Ir David Foundation (City of David) is working to return land to the heirs of Yemenite Jews who immigrated to Israel in 1882 and settled in Silwan.

They were forced to leave their neighborhoods by the British Mandate Authority due to the Arab Riots of 1929.  By 1930 they returned to rebuild, only to be evacuated again in 1938 by the British at the height of WWII, this time their homes confiscated.

Causing more dissension in this predominately Arab community, the foundation acquires properties from absentee landlords as well as purchasing them from willing Arabs.  Their goal is to resettle Jews to this area.

Guards are required for the 450 Jewish residents of Silwan today to ensure their safety against the Arab attacks.

Arab juveniles and adults throw rocks and Molotov cocktails.  Mourners visiting the Jewish cemetery on nearby Mount of Olives are assailed by rocks and grave sites are desecrated.

Taxis avoid the area and even the Israeli police are attacked.  Last year, police documented 450 incidents of stone-throwing in East Jerusalem within the span of four months.

Sadly, because Jews are the minority in this neighborhood, they are regarded as the cause of the problem while they try to peacefully exist against the attacks of their neighbors.

Mount-Olives-Jewish-Cemetary

For over 3000 years, Jewish people have been laid to rest on the Mount of Olives where there are about 150,000 graves.  An estimated 38,000 graves were destroyed by Jordan during its occupation to make way for parking lots, a latrine for Jordanian soldiers, the Intercontinental Hotel, etc.  The cemetery is targeted regularly by Muslim vandals.

International Pressure to Divide Jerusalem

Many Jewish People feel a pressing need to work at taking back their heritage, which is being encroached upon by the Arab’s illegal building and rapid growth.  (Arab birthrates almost double that of the Jews.)

Their hope and prayer is that a contiguous Jewish settlement from the Old City to the settlement city of Ma’ale Adumim will deter any future land division between Israel and the proposed Arab State.

Why is this important?

Sadly, 46 years after the Israeli’s fought and won East Jerusalem back from Jordanian possession in the 1967 Six-Day War, most countries still do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

They consider East Jerusalem to be “disputed territory” or worse, “occupied territory.”

As International pressure pushes Israel toward a two-state solution, any move by the Jewish population to expand is viewed by the world as the “occupation of Arab lands” and a “systematic, deliberate and provocative” effort to make it impossible for Jerusalem to become the capital of two states.  (Israel Today)

Outside factions feel that peace can only be obtained by carving up Jerusalem, an unacceptable trade-off for the Jewish people who would again lose access to the City of David and their ability to pray at the Western Wall.

men's section-Western Wall

Jewish men pray at the Western Wall.

The Jewish People Indigenous to Israel

Amidst all of this turmoil, the extensive proof of ancient Jewish history found in the area seems to go unnoticed in the world.

Alan Baker, an Israeli expert in international law, recently stated “the Jews are an indigenous people in this land.  If the international community cannot accept this fact, then there is no basis for even starting peace talks.”  (Israel Today)

When the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob placed His name in Jerusalem and made it His Holy Habitation (2 Kings 21:7), the city was destined to be a hotbed of turmoil until Messiah’s return.

Nevertheless, God promises that He will bring peace to Jerusalem and all of Israel.

“I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream.”  (Isaiah 66:12)

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