The news that the Jewish National Fund has for decades collaborated with settler group Elad in East Jerusalem, revealed on +972 Magazine this week, may have come as a surprise to some abroad. The JNF is revered in the Jewish diaspora for its tree-planting campaigns and for lending its name to parks across Israel. Elad, on the other hand, is known for seizing homes in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, close to the Old City.
Yet the cooperation between the two entities is hardly aberrant. For decades, the JNF has played a central role in erasing evidence of Palestinian localities depopulated since the 1948 and 1967 wars, acquiring property in the occupied West Bank, and facilitating the settlement project. All these activities have served, in one way or another, to advance the longstanding Zionist imperative of “maximum land, minimum Arabs” — the same goal that drives Elad’s efforts to, in its own words, “Judaize” East Jerusalem.
The two organizations also share a common approach: using Zionism’s conception of the Jewish relationship to the land to present their activities as natural, almost predestined, realizations of a national dream. While the JNF’s methods involved buying up land and creating green spaces, Elad has, since the early 1990s, set its sights on controlling archaeological excavations in East Jerusalem.
Elad’s method, however, is arguably more sophisticated and far-reaching: it harnesses not only the land, but what lies (or doesn’t) beneath it, in order to revise and excise segments of the region’s past in service of a reductive vision of its future. And while historical revisionism has always been central to Israeli nation-building, it has, under increasingly right-wing governments over the past few decades, become ever-more brazen and broad in its scope.
Accordingly, Israeli archaeology — which has long served as a staple of Zionist consciousness-making — has become increasingly subject to the ministrations of state and settler factions. These groups are determined to present the narrative of Jewish presence in the land as one of irrefutable millennial ownership, interrupted by an interim period of exile before being restored with the State of Israel’s establishment.
In the course of this instrumentalization, archaeology is used to counter the narrative of occupation — and of the Nakba — through action as well as symbolism. Few entities have been as central to this politicization of archaeology as Elad, most notably through its flagship project, the City of David park.