JERUSALEM – For years, Palestinians in the crowded East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan have complained that their homes are ramming and cracking, disturbed by an underground archaeological burial led by a right-wing Jewish settler group.
On Sunday, when the grave was officially unveiled, not with a ribbon cut, but with the ceremonial smashing of a brick wall, it was President Trump's ambassador for Israel, David M. Friedman, who swung the first sledge hammer.
The reverberations were literal and metaphorical.
US ambassadors to Israel to avoid being considered as taking Israel's side in the conflict with the Palestinians have long avoided public appearances in East Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1
But Friedman has previously pulverized diplomatic barriers. In October, he attended a business conference in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, allegedly the first official visit to a Jewish settlement of an American ambassador.
But his main role in the event, driven by David David's foundation on Sunday, was more provocative. This time, on keynoting, he was an event for a group that critics are contemplating ahead of efforts to strengthen Israel's demands for sovereignty in the East Jerusalem areas immediately around the old city.
Over the years, the group has moved hundreds of Jews into Silwan, a neighborhood of about 5,000 Palestinians. At the same time, it has led to an excavation of a Silwan area called Wadi Hilweh, where archeologists say they have searched the original boundaries of biblical Jerusalem.
Sunday's event represented the opening of what the group calls the Pilgrim's Way, an underground passage that carries several hundred meters from the Silo Basin, where the group says ancient Jewish pilgrims would cleanse themselves to the point where they would ascend into the temple .
This discovery, among others, the trump of David's city, is of great importance to the Israelis at a time when some Palestinian leaders have attempted to deny Jewish historical claims to Jerusalem and even dispute the existence of the ancient Jewish temples.
"Here we have this powerful, irreversible, indisputable evidence," said Friedman to Sunday guests who included Israeli and American diplomats and lawmakers, billionaire Republican donors Sheldon and Mir Iam Adelson, and Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
Mr. Friedman added: "There was no doubt, and there was never anything about the accuracy, the wisdom, the meticulousness of President Trumpe, who recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I certainly believe this is all doubt to rest."
Critics say David's city uses unorthodox archaeological techniques to highlight Jewish historical claims to the city while marginalizing Muslims and Christians. They also fail to dig without permission from the Palestinians who live overhead. A handful of families have had to leave their homes because of the damage caused by the excavations, lawyers say.
Prior to the Sunday event, Friedman also gave an interview to The Jerusalem Post, in which he said he could not imagine Israel's abandonment of Silwan or the ancient city of David's archaeological site beneath it in a peace agreement.
"I don't think Israel would ever consider such a thought," he told the paper. "David's city is an essential component of Israel's national heritage. It would be related to America returning to the Statue of Liberty."
Mr. Friedman's remarks were only the latest cause of Palestinian violence for a week, beginning with a white conference in Bahrain, which the Palestinians boycotted, seeing it as an attempt to abolish their ambitions for government.
On Wednesday, Jason Greenblatt Mr. Trump's special Middle Eastern envoy, who has pummeled Palestinian officials on Twitter, told an interviewer that he had never had reason to criticize Mr Netanyahu or his government for their treatment of the Palestinians.
And on Thursday, Greenblatt suggested that peace would be more achievable "if people stop leaving settlements, or what I like to call neighborhoods and cities, the reason for the lack of peace."
But that was Mr Friedman's remarks Sunday – and picture of his wielding a sledgehammer under Silwan – as the Palestinians said had reached a new low.
"Whenever I think they have done their worst, they come up with something more," said Hanan Ashrawi, the official veterinary Palestinian Liberation Organization. "They will go at all times to show conscience, identification with and support for all these illegal acts, for the transformation of the character of Jerusalem and for the targeted targeting of Palestinians."
"Getting policies to buy people into this and reinforcing it by using religious claims to shape the political reality of the 21st century? This is dangerous," she added. "It tells the world that the US is complicated and that there is no limit to what it will do."
Mr. Friedman insisted, however, that he and his white house colleagues only described things as they are, but it is difficult for the Palestinians to hear it. "The truth is the only foundation on which peace will come to this area," he said.