It came as a pleasant surprise to hear a knock at the door and see two friends and former neighbors who had stopped by just to chat.

They live in America but have roots in East Jerusalem. They have trouble enough visiting family there as it is, so I’ll call them Samir and Halima rather than their real names.

Samir is a big, jovial business owner with a bushy beard shot through with gray. Halima is petite and quiet, focusing most of her energy on raising their four children.

When Samir and Halima first moved to our neighborhood about 10 years ago, Susan and I made it a point to welcome them. They would sometimes bring us dates from the West Bank or sweet treats associated with the end of Ramadan.

We would take them cooking spices from Bethlehem, fresh figs, and even a sprout from our fig tree. We’ve attended an annual open house at their mosque, which works hard at building good relations with the broader community.

Our friends recently moved to another neighborhood, needing a larger house as their children mature, but we both pledged to keep in touch.

We sometimes commiserate over the poor treatment Palestinians receive from Israelis. When Halima and Samir visit family members in East Jerusalem, they face constant security hassles, but with surprising grace.

As former residents of Jerusalem, they are allowed to use the Tel Aviv airport rather than being required to go through Amman, Jordan, like most Palestinians.

Still, that doesn’t make it easy. When we remarked how authorities often pull random travelers from our travel groups for extra questioning, Halima said she and the children typically face such intimidating interrogations that one of the boys doesn’t want to go back.

Samir joked that he doesn’t worry about being randomly chosen: “They are waiting for me,” he said. Armed with passenger lists, Israeli security always pulls him aside for extra questioning – or just sitting and waiting – for five or six hours before allowing him into the country.

“It’s all about making you feel unwelcome,” he said, “so you don’t want to come back.”

I had that conversation in mind when I read about the Sumarin family, residents of a section of East Jerusalem known as Silwan.

For years, Israeli authorities have encroached deeper into the Silwan neighborhood, which happens to sit atop the oldest part of Jerusalem, the part going back to the days when the Israelites took it from the Jebusites and called it the “City of David.” Archaeology has often been used as a foil for forcing Palestinians out.

As reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Sumarins were custodians of the last remaining orchard in the crowded neighborhoods of Silwan. As one of the first residents there, they leased the land from the Greek Orthodox church in the 1920s.They built terraces on the steep slopes and for many decades they tended scores of trees producing olives, figs, oranges, lemons, and other fruits.

In 2004, however, without consulting the Sumarin family or giving them a chance to buy the property, the patriarch of the Greek Church sold the land to a nonprofit group that then turned it over to Elad, a pro-settler Zionist organization that wants to evict more current residents for the sake of uncovering more of the ancient city.

About the same time, expansion of a sewer system had led to the discovery of the Pool of Siloam that was built during the Second Temple period, sometime during the first century BCE. Fed by the Gihon Spring, it was a primary reservoir of fresh water and a frequent stopping point for pilgrims coming to the temple.

Jesus once healed a blind man there, spitting on the ground to make mud to put on his eyes, then telling him to wash in the Pool of Siloam (John 9:1-11).

Our tour groups always stop on the pool’s steps for a time of reflection after walking through the Siloam Tunnel, also built during Hezekiah’s time.

The pool is only partially excavated because most of it sits beneath land owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, which has its own prized orchard above and won’t allow further digging.

Some archaeologists have long suspected that an older and perhaps larger pool from the time of Hezekiah (715-687 BCE) might lie nearby, though others think the Second Temple pool was a rebuilt version of the older one.

Thinking the older pool might lie beneath the Sumarin family’s orchard, Elad finagled a partnership with the Israel Antiquities Authority and Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority to take over the property and excavate the site.

They were so certain that they issued a glowing joint press release declaring that “The Ancient Siloam Pool in the City of David National Park will be fully exposed again and opened to the general public,” claiming it would become “a major national and international historic and archaeological site.”

So it was that police bearing pepper spray showed up last December 27 and evicted the family, while members of Elad tore down its fence. Soon bulldozers were brought in – not the proper way to do archaeological excavations or to treat neighbors – and the digging commenced.

The result? After months of effort, nothing but an ugly, gargantuan hole in the ground. In places, the earthmovers have gone yards beneath where the pool floor was expected to be, uncovering nothing but dirt and more dirt.

Ideology should not be the impetus for archaeology. In this case, both the IAA and Israel’s Tourism Ministry were pressured into mistreating good people and shelling out millions of dollars for an ethical debacle. They are left with nothing but an ugly chasm and dirt on their faces. They’d have to do like Jesus and spit on the ground for it to be mud.

Meanwhile, the Sumarin family still lives next to the orchard-turned-empty pit, but they can’t bear to look out the window.

It seems more than obvious that people who claim such devotion to their Hebrew heritage ought to live by its principles.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” goes all the way back to the book of Leviticus (19:18b).

Try excavating that.

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