Israeli settlers archaeology tourism plans seen deepening roots
People work in a new dig on the fringes of the archaeological site known as the City of David, situated just outside the Old City in East Jerusalem
By Noah Browning
HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - On an ancient hill dotted with 1,000-year-old olive trees, Israelis are busy excavating in search of the first palace of King David in the heart of the West Bank.
The Jewish settlers who started the dig with the help of Israel's Antiquities Authority say they want to turn it into an archaeological park to celebrate its historical significance.
But for Palestinians who hope the West Bank will someday form part of a Palestinian state, the move is a grab not only for land but also for their past - a ploy to cut them out of history and away from land they say is rightfully theirs.
The Bible says David, the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah, first ruled in Hebron before conquering Jerusalem to the north.
"You come to see where King David started his first palace, it blows you away. I don't know, it blows me away!" said David Wilder, spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron.
The dig, located on a plot of Jewish-owned land that is part of an island of 500 settlers among some 250,000 Palestinians, takes place under the protective eyes of Israeli soldiers toting automatic weapons.
Most countries consider the settlements Israel has built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal, and Palestinians fear the enclaves will deny them a viable state made up of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
The promotion of archaeological sites on this disputed land goes to the heart of the most explosive issues in Israel-Palestinian peace talks being brokered by Washington - building on occupied land, the status of Jerusalem and the future of Israel as a "Jewish state".
A room, which is part of an archaeological site, is seen in the Jewish settler neighbourhood of Tel Rumeida, in the divided city of Hebron
"I want people to visit Hebron and leave with the cultural and religious significance of the site to the Jewish people, the state of Israel and people around the world," Wilder said.
"You don't live in the past, but the past is an arrow showing where you've come from and where you can go to."
Shuaib al-Tamimi, a 22-year-old Palestinian watching the excavation from behind a new chain-link fence around the site next to his family home, voiced his contempt for the plan.
"Of course there are antiquities here, Roman antiquities. To say Solomon's palace or whatever was here is a conspiracy and a big lie," he said.