Digging For Trouble / In the Shadow of King David

Feature documentary on the politics of settler archaeology in Jerusalem

Director: Natasha Dudinski

Producer: DigressMedia

The film in full.

Yonatan Mizrahi is an archaeologist activist.

He didn’t used to care much about politics, but in his role as chief archaeologist for the separation wall that Israel built to limit access into and out of the West Bank, he came to understand that in Israel, archaeology is politics, and that archaeology gives a narrative that can be used to drive political goals.

In fact, the only way that the wall could be stopped, either temporarily, or indefinitely, was through an archaeological discovery. Palestinian landowners whose land was to be appropriate for the wall begged him to “find something, anything”. He realised that he too wanted desperately to “find something” in every back yard.

He resigned to set up Emeq Shave, or Common Ground, an NGO that represents a non-partisan, apolitical archeological history of Jerusalem, and fights the revisionist-settler movement and its use of archaeology as propaganda. The Palestinian village of Silwan, just outside the Old City walls, is at the forefront of this battle between narrative and reality.

This film tells its story.


Living with King David is no fun. Just ask the people of Silwan, a Palestinian village just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Since the first excavations began in the mid 19th century, archaeologists have come to this picturesque village, spade in hand, hunting for the legendary biblical city of King David. But in the last ten years, this obsession with antiquities risks ruining the lives of the people who live here as a constant threat of demolition hovers over their homes. Is the past more important than the present? Or is there another agenda - something more sinister than an innocent love of history - hidden amongst the stones?


SPECIAL JURY PRIZE, Int’l Archeological Film Festival, Nyon, Switzerland


Israel/Palestine - Digging for Trouble - 23 min 15 sec [14 January 2008]

Digging for Trouble

Time-coded script of the final cut (23:44 min)

1: Exterior - archaeological site

Montage with music - excavations at an ancient site, people digging in soft early morning light.

Dr Rafael Greenberg (Rafi) sweeps ancient stone road and says in Hebrew:


“Sweeping a 5,000 years old road really does it for me.”

00:35:24 Voice over during visuals of Rafi:

“Dr Raphael Greenberg, a professor at Tel Aviv University, is one of the Israeli most respected archaeologists. These days Dr Greenberg is a worried man.”

2: Exterior - antiquities in the City of David Nat. Park

The title of the film: DIGGING FOR TROUBLE appears during the drive

Driving through a Palestinian village, suddenly the walls of the Old City (with Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa visible) appear in the distance above. Shot of a busy road with the Old city walls in the background and Temple Mount above, CU sign in 3 languages points to the City of David. (music)

VO over the following visuals: people walk above ancient tower, antiquities, man in “Indiana Jones” hat points to ancient stones, religious man reads book, kids run on ancient walls, ELS people under layers of ancient walls, full view of Silwan village under TM, CU of the Al Aqsa.

01:19:09 VO:

“4000 years ago, the heart of ancient Jerusalem, was here.

It was first discovered by the British explorer Charles Warren in the mid 19th c, and since then the search for biblical CoD has fired the imagination of many archaeologists. Today, these impressive antiquities sit in a disputed area of Jerusalem, inside the Palestinian village of Silwan, captured by Israel in 1967 war.

3: Exterior - Pool of Shiloam in CoD

Visuals: CU of the Al Aqsa, MS of church surrounded by old houses, glass mosque in front of densely built houses, Rafi Greenberg talks to a group of people, he walks and people follow him.

01:51:06 VO:

“In such a sensitive place, which stories are told and who tells them can have profound impact on the people who live there. This is what is worrying Dr. Greenberg and he takes his fellow academics around the CoD excavations to explain the problem.

Rafi talks to a group of academics sitting around him at the ancient pool surrounded by stone walls. (in Hebrew)


“I started my archeological career in Jerusalem, in the City of David excavations in 1978 - 82. During that time I got to know the area really well. I also met my wife here, she is still my wife and I have a very personal and meaningful relation to this place. Afterwards I became a lecturer at the TA University. In 2002 I came here to prepare a tour for my students, and to my amazement I discovered that the place I knew changed completely. The place I knew as an Arab village with archaeology, turned into a place with armed guards, with guns ready to be pulled out any moment, a place with amplified symbols of Israeli presence - huge flags, watchtowers, cameras filming 24 hours a day. This was my renewed acquaintance with Jerusalem, with the City of David under the rule of Elad, the settler organization that runs the archeological site here.”

4: Exterior - City of David archaeological park

Visuals: the entrance to the CoD archaeological park, many tourists and soldiers coming in and out, woman playing harp, young women sift through findings and clean them, woman in a hat looks at the view. All over this sequence, there is harp music.

Doron Spielman, spokesperson of ELAD / Ir David Foundation, walks up the steps.

03:55:03 VO:

“For the last 10 years, the City of David national park has been run by a private foundation called ELAD or Ir David. Doron Spielman is their director of development.”

Doron talks standing on top of the CoD with the Temple Mount in the background:


“The Ir David foundation protects what is perhaps maybe the holiest place in the world, or certainly one of the most historical places in the entire world. And we’re standing at no better place in understanding the history of 3 religions in the world today. Here behind me we see the well known Temple Mount, place where originally king Solomon built his Temple 3,000 yrs ago, today we can see the Al Aqsa mosque standing on top of the Temple Mount,. And we are now in the cradle of civilisation for Jerusalem. A place where 3,000 yrs ago King David came in his attempt to conquer Jerusalem.”

Visuals: kids playing on rooftops of Silwan houses, tourists looking at the CoD, kids entering ruins, antiquities.

CU of Doron talking:


“In this location, the Bible is the most accurate text in understanding the life of the city. In fact, 60% of the Bible was written on this little hill, which is only 150 m wide, by 700m long. Every layer, every stone you pull up and you look at the other side of the stone; you can find a clue to a past civilisation. So this place is so rich in archaeology is that of course that’s what draws everybody to get closer, and closer, to pile on top of home, to be closer to the energy of this place.”

5: Exterior - Silwan, at the locked entrance to ancient Pool

Shot of an ancient water pool through closed gates.

Rafi in front of a closed gate, talks to a guard inside a booth (in Hebrew).


Guard: I have instructions not to let any photographers in.

Rafi: Not to let photographers in?

Guard: Only from the ELAD organisation.

Rafi; Is this ELAD’s property?

Guard: Sure, this is private property of ELAD.

Rafi: I don’t think so.

Guard: This is private property of ELAD.

Rafi: It seems to me you’re wrong. I think it’s a public area.

Guard: this is private property of ELAD. ELAD invested money here, not the state.

Rafi: Do you think there is a difference between ELAD and the state?

Guard: Yes, there is. ELAD is the only one, for now, who takes care of the site. The state didn’t give any money for this.

Rafi: Doesn’t the state give any money to ELAD?

Guard: Not even a shekel…(camera moves to film the guard) Excuse me, why are you filming? (smiling)

Rafi: Because it interests her. I think this excavations area is public area. It was always public. There used to be a passage here. Then they made excavations here and called them rescue excavations as they said they had to repair the sewage system here.

Guard: The sewage exploded here and then they discovered the pool here.

Rafi: It belongs to ELAD?

Guard: Sure, ELAD paid for all this.

Rafi: Ok. So this belongs to ELAD. Thanks.

Shot of a lock over closed gate.

6: Exterior - street in the village of Silwan

Rafi Greenberg walks through Silwan, passing by densely built area. Man has a haircut in barber shop, elder man stands on the street, man sweeps the street, a girl looks from her balcony. (music)

Rafi talks standing on a Silwan street and pointing around.

Intercuts: shots of ancient tombs underneath densely built houses, closed gate, man with a wheelbarrow walks on ancient walls.


“So we have here to our right historical village of Silwan - there are many antiquities interspersed with the modern buildings-we can actually see some parts of the bedrock cliff and the tombs, the ancient tombs that were cut into that cliff, about 700 - 800 BC. And then over on this side is the archaeological park of the City of David. It’s theoretically open to the public - in practice however, Silwanis, the people living here, have no part in this park, they don’t enter the park, they don’t have any opportunity to see its antiquities or to study them.”

7: Interior - at the entrance to the Warren Shaft

Doron walks down the steps in the park, opens the gate to a building, walks down iron stairs:

07:59:21 “This is the ancient tunnel that he discovered when he came to Jerusalem in 1867.”

Doron walks through a concrete tunnel towards the shaft. He speaks on top of the shaft:

08:11:20 “We’re looking, carved into solid bedrock an opening that goes down into the middle of the earth, underneath the city walls, to the water source. You see the Canaanites the progenitors of the Jebusites, in 1850 BCE, dug this underground shaft, which brought people underneath the city walls to the water. Why is this so fantastic? There are few places in the world where you can stand and say- no question they were here. I can tell you with certainty that David, Solomon, Batsheva, Jeremiah, Isaiah, go through all the prophets and all the kings of the ancient world, perhaps the queen of Sheba, they all stood here and they walk down this very shaft- because this was the only way to gather water from the city.

Doron walks down the steps in the narrow deep shaft:

09:07:05 “Come on, join the fun!”

Tourists walk down the shaft and through tunnels. Inside a dark underground chamber, a guide speaks to a group of tourists:

09:16:02 Guide: “Until about 200 years ago, no one had any idea where the City of David is. And that changed in 1860 when a British man came to Israel, his name was Captain Charles Warren. And he came to Israel and he wanted to dig underneath the Temple Mount. And why did he want to dig there? Any ideas?”

09:40:23 A tourist: “Looking for treasure”

09:42:00 Guide: “Looking for treasures, exactly.”

Doron inside the shaft, his face lit by eerie orange light:


“Without a doubt we have experienced the most explosive tourism in the entire country. I think this is due to the fact that just now these incredible archaeological finds which have enormous importance for the entire world have come to light. And the archaeology itself speaks, this is not just the stone, this wall is not just a wall, I’m not touching just the stone here, I’m touching this stone I can feel the chisel made by the Canaanites as they made this stone, I feel king David’s hand as I put my hand on this stone.

8: Exterior - Silwan, background of ancient walls with visitors

Visuals: LS of woman and boy walk on the Silwan street with the walls of the Old City overlooking it, Rafi walks in Silwan, CU of the walls of the Old City, tourists view the area from above. (sound of muezzin)

Rafi speaks on the street, in front of the fence surrounding the CoD:

Intercuts: tourists walk around the park, man with a wheelbarrow runs, LS kids play on the ancient walls, sign City of David, guard holding a gun walks in front of the entrance to the CoD


“Back in the 70s ad 80s when I excavated here, and afterwards when area began to be developed, it was developed by Jerusalem Municipality as a public park accessible to anyone, and it was supposed to represent part of the mosaic of cultures of Jerusalem.

What has happened in recent years is that ELAD settlers group has volunteered to take on the management of the entire archaeological park - they’re not doing this out if kindness or good will but as part of their program to take over and occupy large parts of Silwan and make it Jewish. So they have their own slant on the history of this region- it begins more or less at the time of David and then history ends with the destruction of the 2nd temple only to be renewed with their own settlement history or with early Zionist or the 19th C Jewish settlement. This is the ELAD view, and they are entitled to their view as is everyone in Jerusalem. But what has happened is that the government has handed over the keys metaphorically and physically to the ELAD organization and they now control the entire site, they are using their control of these antiquities to control all of Silwan. So it’s a very highly politicized approach to the way antiquities are excavated and presented and this is what troubles me.”

9: Exterior - the village of Silwan

Visuals: houses with Israeli flag inside Silwan, Jewish religious man sits on a rock looking around, Arab woman on her veranda with grapes, veiled woman walks down the street with a little girl, house with laundry.

12:17:02 VO:

In 2004, a city plan to enlarge the archaeological park called for demolition of 88 houses here in Silwan. After months of protests by Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, the demolishing order was put on hold, but for many, the threat of losing their house remains real.

Abed Shaludi talks to a group of activists (in Hebrew), Rafi stands next to him listening:


“Listen, we’re sitting on a barrel of explosives here. It can explode at any moment. It’s not good for us, nor for you. Not for my children, nor for yours.”

VO: Abed Shaludi, who lives in Silwan, was one of the leaders of the protest campaign.

10: Exterior - Courtyard of the house of Abed Shaludi in Silwan

Abed Shaludi sits under an olive tree in his courtyard:


“They wanted to destroy 100 houses. And the demolishing order we received from the municipality, they said that Silwan is part of a very big site of Jewish history, and King David were here before 1000 yrs ago, and he built his kingdom in Jerusalem, in the Old City, and his garden were in Silwan, because they had a lot of water, in all of the years, and imagine, in a few words down there, they wrote, and that’s why we want to destroy a 100 houses. 1500 people live in these houses, imagine that they want to throw them out because King David were here. He slept here, he ate here - so what?”

11: Exterior - the City of David national park

Doron stands on stairs, looking at children running by:

13:58:13 “These are Arab children that live here.”

He extends his hand to them, but they ignore him and run past him.

14:14:21 “Children will be children. Children always stay outside of the political argument.”

Small boy (arms up, V sign) shouts in Arabic.

Doron stands on top of COD, Silwan background:


“So this began the process in 1986 the founding of my foundation, the Ir David foundation, whose goal is to return all this land you see behind me into Jewish hands. And we purchased much of this land for much more than its face value, in order to return much of these assets as possible back to the Jewish people. Today 60-65% of this land is now back in Jewish hands, you have Jews and Arabs living peacefully together, and on the surface of the earth you have the dynamic of Jews and Arabs living together, and underneath their feet you’re exploring history.”

Montage of shots of Silwan with music:

Palestinian woman walks towards the camera, many CU shots of cameras in various places overlooking the village, Palestinian man repairs his satellite dish on a roof, another camera with an Israeli flag, kids enter ancient pool, many fences on a hill on top of which an Israeli flag is waving in the wind, guard wit a gun walks on a roof of a house, kite flying high in the sky.

12: Exterior, under olive tree in courtyard of Abed’s house

Abed sits in his courtyard in the shade of an olive tree.

Intercuts: Abed’s wife and children in courtyard.


“They offered my father half a million dollars. I was a millionaire. I was… But I refused. Before a week ago, I talked to a friend, he told me- you know, this is the opportunity of your life. You know what-this is half a million dollars. It’s a very huge money. Take it man! Anyway, they will throw you out of it… I told him-listen man. I had a very hard life. Before 2 yrs ago I was in house custody, most of the time we didn’t have food to eat, me and my children. And I have an opportunity to make half a million dollars! But why should I do that? The only thing that I have here is my reputation. The money can come and go. I don’t care for the money. The money can come and go…My home, my land, I’ve been born here, I know every inch of this place, every stone…”

Abed’s daughter calls him to help her with the bicycle. His wife looks at them.


“My father and mother rented this house in 1964. I was born in 71. In 1990 we found ourselves in the court against the settlers. We asked ourselves- how that became? We lived here since 1964.”

Abed’s son listens to him, his daughter passes through the gate of their house on a bicycle.

13: Exterior, on steps COD, Silwan background

Doron, densely built houses in the distance

Inter-cut: very long tilt up along houses piled on top of each other.


“The process of buying homes in this area, probably a subject that one needs a PHD to understand it, the nuances and intricacies of buying land here- land here is under Ottoman law, British law, Jordanian law and modern Israeli law. And our process of buying a single home here, we can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, uncovering the correct certifications, to verify that the owner who has approached us is the correct owner. He himself may not know whether he correctly or incorrectly owns that home. We’ve been in court many times, we’ve been challenged by orgs like the PA or today Hamas, and we’ve never lost a court case against these homes, never, not even once.”

Arab house with the Israeli flag waving in the wind.

14: Exterior- under olive tree in Abed’s courtyard

Abed sits under olive tree:


“I lost the court case against the settlers. And the judge ordered to get me out of the house. And to pay of course 20000 shekels court costs. They didn’t give us a date, they kept it open. That’s what makes me more angry, and I won’t say afraid…You know I have wife and children, I have to take care of them. I don’t want to be caught working in a far away place and find the settlers are braking the house and throwing everything out.

Shot of an olive tree above the village, LS of the whole village with Temple Mount with Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock above it.

15: Exterior - Rafi at an excavations site

Rafi sits inside ancient ruins:

Inter-cuts: Temple Mount (with Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock) with clouds passing above it, Jewish religious man prays walking in front of the Wailing Wall, large group of religious people pose for a photo in CoD.


“Dani Seidman from Ir Amim has a phrase that he uses and he calls it the ‘Thermal map’ of Jerusalem, so the hottest place is the Temple Mt, so the nearer you are to the TM, the nearer you are to the core of Jerusalem and whatever changes you want to make to Jerusalem, you want to make as near as you can to the TM. So Elad are located in an ideal spot just beneath the TM, they view it all the time. And for them, it’s a highly emotional religious experience just being there. So it’s a privilege to live in the COD, to be so close to the TM. And this I think clouds their vision, it doesn’t cloud their vision - it colours their vision of everything else. Everything else becomes instrumental in allowing them to live this close to the TM, to allowing them to pave the way, to prepare the ground for the Third Temple. And archaeology is just viewed by them, someone used the phrase, the Messiah’s ass, so archaeologists are the ‘Messiah’s ass’, if they can move us , if they can carry us a few more steps nearer to conquering the entire area of the TM, so be it, we’ll use them, when they get tired we’ll find someone else.”

16: Exterior - Pool of Shiloam

Visuals: Sign: “Archaeological site, no entrance” with a house behind it, shots from excavations in Silwan.

Rafi speaks to his fellow academics: (in Hebrew)

Intercuts: man digs behind fence, huge deep pit with an ancient wall at its bottom and ladders around - tilt up to modern houses right next to the pit


“There are things you just don’t do. There are things archaeologists have to consider when they dig in a community. We take a public area and tell people - hands off, this is ours, we’ll tare care of it, so don’t disturb us, we’ll return it after we’re done. What we return is never the same as what we take. We always move things, we take things away, we destroy. Every archeological activity is destructive. Every archeologist should ask himself: before I destroy a site for science, I should ask myself if what I do is ethically justified. Does it benefit people who live here, who entrusted me this place?”

17: Exterior - street where Abed lives

Visuals: MS minaret surrounded by houses, LS shot of Silwan houses above the excavations site

Abed stands on the street, in the background stands an armed guard:


“A lot of people ask me - why do you hate these people? Why should I love them? What they did to me? What good did they bring me and my children? Why should my children see guards with guns around ? So, w hy should I love them? Why should 50,000 people in Silwan love them? They dream to take my land. I’m staying here, my children will stay here…In spite of that I don’t like the kind of life that they live now, my children, and the kind of raise I have to give them with people like this (he points to the armed guard). But…we’ll be here. 36 years of my life I lived here and my sons will be here, too, I’m sure of it.”

He looks at his two boys in front of the gate to his house, one of them bicycles away and circles around the armed guard.

18: Exterior - on the street of Silwan, outside the archeological site

Rafi speaks to his fellow academics, tourists pass by: (in Hebrew)


“What’s the bottom line here? The bottom line is that we have to live together in this city - one third is Palestinian, one third Jewish ultra-orthodox and one third all the rest. As representatives of a small part of ‘all the rest’, we should be more careful in choosing whom we serve and how, and think how we can contribute to coexistence in this city. This is what I think, not only as a professional archaeologist but also from an ethical point of view according to which archeology should be a tool for peace and coexistence and not for fire and brimstone.”

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