Photo: Yuli Shiloach
Israel Story

King of the Hill

From Tell El-Ful, an abandoned hilltop in East Jerusalem, you can see all the way from Amman to Tel Aviv, from Jerusalem to Ramallah. Its history stretches from the biblical King Saul to the bearded King Hussein, and includes tales of raped concubines, the Six-Day War, and pot-smoking teenagers.

December 22, 2017
Photo: Yuli Shiloach

Imagine an abandoned White House, covered with graffiti, open to the winds, full of trash, broken bottles and condom wrappers. Now go a step further and picture it against the background of the most beautiful panorama you can conjure up. That is Tell El-Ful, a hilltop in East Jerusalem. Ever since Israel Story stumbled upon the tale of the deserted Hashemite palace perched atop the mound, its producers have been on a mission to uncover its past. Like many other tells in the region it has a biblical past (perhaps), an archeological past (probably) and a historical one (most definitely). But more than almost anywhere else, this litter-strewn hill is a metaphor for life in these parts: It has seen tears and blood, dreams and hope. It has been home to kings and shepherds, soldiers and tribesmen. And it has brought together lovers and enemies, Arabs and Jews, Jordanians and Israelis and Palestinians.

In the prologue, David Green, who wrote an article about the site, takes host Mishy Harman to explore its trippy royal past.

Act 1: “The Concubine and the King.” When news of the atrocities committed by the Tribe of Benjamin reached the people of Israel, a civil war broke out. The Benjaminites’ stronghold, Gibeah, became synonymous with heinous crimes, lack of morality, and total lawlessness. So where is Gibeah? And why does it even matter?

Act 2: “Villa Hussein.” What would it be like to have a king as your tenant? Just ask Mohammad Qutob from Beit Hanina. In a time when Jerusalem is back in the news, we meet members of the city’s real aristocracy, families who have called it home for more than 800 years.

Act 3: “The Frozen Palace.” The lavish halls that were supposed to house heads of state and billionaires are now full of thorns and garbage. What would have been the wine cellar is now a prime location for daring makeout sessions. Welcome to King Hussein’s royal palace, 50 years after construction abruptly stopped.

The original music in this episode was composed and performed by Ari Wenig, with help from Yochai Maital. The final song, “Wen Ya Galub”, is by Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis. The episode was produced by Yuli Shiloach, Hannah Barg, Zev Levi, and Mishy Harman. It was edited by Julie Subrin and mixed by Sela Waisblum.

Listen to the full episode here or download it from iTunes. You can hear all of Israel Story’s episodes in English here and in Hebrew here.

Israel Story, the English-language version of the popular Israeli radio program Sipur Israeli, is distributed by PRX and produced in partnership with Tablet.

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