Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Archaeology as a Political Weapon

Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past. --George Orwell, 1984.

The struggle for Silwan, an extremely poor Palestinian village in East Jerusalem, is a small microcosm of all the ways the occupation is perpetrated: the tag team of settlers and the state, the passive acquiescence of academics, the use of language to obscure reality, and the long term strategy being used to enlarge Jewish territory, backed by foreign money. It is also an inspiring example of a coalition of Palestinian and Israel activists and scholars who are working to save the village— against very high odds.

The article by two Israeli scholars in the April 25th edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education describes the struggle being waged in Silwan. A shadowy settler organization called Elad (largely funded, it is conjectured—because they refuse to reveal the names of their major donors—by Russian and American millionaires), uses its financial muscle to obtain land in Silwan, through methods both legitimate and less so, and install Jewish settlers throughout the Palestinian village.

The way Elad and the government use one another to further the goals of the occupation are illustrative. Elad was hired by the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority and Jerusalem Municipality as a subcontractor administering the "City of David" archaeological park in Silwan. That work was then outsourced back by Elad to the Israel Antiquities Authority, which as part of its work has authorized the demolition of 88 Palestinian homes in service of archaeological "explorations." In this way Elad, an extremist settler organization, gains official legitimacy as well as additional legal muscle, while the state reaps its rewards in archaelogical "evidence" and new settlers. The many tourists to the area, now marketed as the "City of David" get a one-sided, nationalistic view of the archaeological evidence.

These archaeological explorations are ethically dubious even beyond their use of home demolitions and intimidation, because they focus on "proving" the Jewish provenance of the area, to the exclusion of Muslim history. The "City of David" ignores the 3,000 years of history since David's time and doesn't include a single Muslim structure.

A few renegade Israeli archaelogists are actively fighting back—in their opinion simply defending the integrity of their profession. The article reports that a list of prominent international academics is joining the movement to protect Silwan from this slow-moving catastrophe for the residents, but the Israeli scholars who have joined are embarrassingly few. Over the past two years, the Palestinian residents themselves, joined by Jewish activists, have slowly built a coalition actively fighting the situation through grassroots protest and the courts.

Check out to learn more, especially if you're planning a visit to Israel or Palestine and are interested in "alternative" tours.

The second article, by Meron Rappaport in Ha'aretz, is even more interesting in the context of the story of Silwan. It looks at efforts to coordinate the archaeological heritage of Israel and Palestine in case of a future final agreement. Professor Nazmi Jubeh, a member of the Palestinian archeological negotiating team, encapsulates the potential of archaeology to integrate the rich histories of the peoples of the region in support of peace, despite the current barriers. While the article calls it "surprising" that he would advocate for such a position, it seems he is simply reflecting the ethics of archaeology untainted by politics: "…he thinks the very fact that doubts are raised about his readiness to preserve Jewish finds pulls the ground from under him as an archaeologist. By raising these questions, you present Israel as having singular ownership of the Muslim history in Israel," Jubeh says. "The history of this land is the sum of all the histories of the people who lived in it. The Roman period does not belong to the Romans. You will not want the synagogue at Na'aran to be dismantled, just as I will not want to dismantle the Jazar Mosque in Acre. You cannot deprive me of the Jewish past of this land. It belongs to everyone."

--Rebecca Vilkomerson, Guest Editor for JPN

Lincoln Shlensky adds:

In the JPN post on April 11th, I mentioned a New Yorker magazine article by Jane Kramer on Nadia Abu El-Haj's tenure battle at Barnard college. That article is now available online as a PDF file here.

From the issue dated April 25, 2008

Digging for Trouble
The politics of archaeology in East Jerusalem

"Archaeology has become a weapon of dispossession," Yonathan Mizrachi, an Israeli archaeologist, said in a recent telephone interview with us. He was referring to the way archaeology is being used in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in the oldest part of Jerusalem, where, we believe, archaeological digs are being carried out as part of a concerted campaign to expel Palestinians from their ancestral home.

That effort is orchestrated by an Israeli settler organization called Elad, a name formed from Hebrew letters that stand for "to the City of David." For several years, Elad has used a variety of means to evict East Jerusalem Palestinians from their homes and replace them with Jewish settlers. Today Silwan is dotted with about a dozen such outposts. Moreover, practically all the green areas in the densely populated neighborhood have been transformed into new archaeological sites, which have then been fenced and posted with armed guards. On two of these new archaeological sites, Jewish homes have already been built.

Although the balance of power is clearly in the settlers' favor, Silwan's residents have begun a campaign, "Citizens for Silwan," to stop the excavations. They are joined by a number of noted international scholars and a handful of Israeli academics, who are trying to help them remain in their homes. Among those involved are David A. Bell, dean of faculty and professor of the humanities at the Johns Hopkins University; Judith Butler, professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley; Lorraine Daston, director of Berlin's Max Planck Institute for the History of Science; Natalie Zemon Davis, professor of history emerita at Princeton University; Rashid Khalidi, professor of Arab studies at Columbia University; Thomas W. Laqueur, professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley; Sheldon Pollock, professor of Sanskrit and Indian studies at Columbia University; Marshall Sahlins, professor of anthropology and social sciences emeritus at the University of Chicago; and Robert A. Schneider, professor of history at Indiana University at Bloomington and editor of The American Historical Review. We joined David Shulman, professor of South Asian studies, and Yaron Ezrahi, professor of political science, both from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as Israeli signatories. Notably absent from the list are prominent Israeli archaeologists, many of whom depend on funds from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Silwan is a stone's throw away from the Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa Mosque — among the holiest and most sensitive sites in the Middle East. While archaeology's mission is to study the history of peoples by excavating and analyzing their material culture, inscriptions, and other remains, it has often been deployed in the service of nationalism. In Israel, for example, it has typically been used to underscore the Jewish and biblical past of the land to differentiate Zionism from more-traditional colonial ventures. Zionism, after all, has always portrayed itself as a return to the original Jewish homeland and not as a conquest of foreign lands.

According to the Old Testament, King David established Jerusalem as his capital, but the Jews were later conquered and expelled. Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War four decades ago, and ever since Israeli archaeologists have been trying (unsuccessfully) to produce proof of David's presence in that area. Occasionally they have even refrained from documenting the long Muslim presence, which is the cultural heritage of the Palestinian inhabitants. And, at any rate, the fact that not a single Muslim structure has been preserved in the entire national park that has been set up in Silwan is a clear indication of this erasure strategy. By concentrating almost entirely on unearthing the remains of the Judean kingdom, while ignoring the subsequent 3,000 years, archaeologists have violated several ethical rules as stipulated by the World Archaeological Congress. Those include the acknowledgment of the "indigenous cultural heritage, including sites, places, objects, artifacts, human remains" as well as establishing "equitable partnerships and relationships" between archaeologists and indigenous peoples whose cultural heritage is being investigated.

In 1998, Elad received a major boost when the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality hired the settler organization as a subcontractor to run "The City of David," the national park located in Silwan. Subsequently Elad, which received government money and a permit to carry out archaeological excavations in the area, outsourced that work to a state agency, the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Empowered by different arms of the Israeli government, Elad accelerated its efforts to Judaize East Jerusalem. The group successfully lobbied the municipality to issue demolition orders for 88 Palestinian homes so that it could build an archaeological park in the neighborhood — a plan that has temporarily been suspended because of international pressure.

More recently the Israel Antiquities Authority began digging under the homes of some of Silwan's residents without informing them. Fearing that their buildings' foundations were being undermined, the residents petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court. On the very same night they filed their appeal, their homes were raided by Israeli police, and five people were arrested.

While the High Court of Justice later issued a restraining order against the Antiquities Authority, bringing a temporary halt to the most recent archaeological dig, the court may decide for Elad when it hears the case. After all, in the past the court has hesitated to act against Elad, refusing, for example, to evict the settler organization from the national park even after it was proved that basic legal protocols were not followed when the state initially authorized it to run the park.

Those scholars who have come to the aid of Silwan realize that the Palestinians there have become a symbol for the struggle over Jerusalem: a struggle that could easily explode into not just another round of Israeli-Palestinian violence, but, because of the neighborhood's proximity to the Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa Mosque, also into a conflagration that could ignite the whole Middle East.

David Shulman, who organized the campaign, sent a protest to Benjamin Kedar, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and chairman of the board of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Shuka Dorfman, director general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, as well as to Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. He and the campaign are asking Israeli authorities to stop Elad's activities and strip the extreme settler organization of its authority to run any archaeological excavations in the future. It is now up to other scholars from all over the world to join their call.

Yigal Bronner teaches in the department of South Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago. Neve Gordon is a senior lecturer in politics at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. His book Israel's Occupation will be published in November by the University of California Press.
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 54, Issue 33, Page B15


A separate peace

By Meron Rapoport

Tags: Van Leer Institute

The guests who arrived at the Jerusalem Van Leer Institute this week were archaeologists, as their footwear attested to. Most of them wore hiking boots, though some showed up in biblical-style sandals, toes poking out on a chilly Jerusalem evening, and others in slippers of the type kibbutzim once gave their members. Here and there one could spot regular evening shoes, some of them red, particularly on the feet of young female archaeologists. But whatever their footwear, it seemed to be covered by an invisible layer of dust, accumulated during their excavations in the soil of the Land of Israel.

The 50 or so archaeologists had come together to discuss a document that had been e-mailed to Israel's entire archaeological community. The thin document, numbering six pages in all and entitled "Israeli-Palestinian Cultural Heritage Agreement," is the result of four years of discussions between Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists. For the first time, the two sides, aided by American mediators, have mapped out the contours of archaeological peace.

"Every week for years, within the framework of what is known as the 'back channels,' at least two or three teams of Israeli and Palestinian professionals and academics have been meeting somewhere in Europe or America and discussing all the possible issues, from water to the economy," Moty Cristal, an expert in negotiations from the Security Studies program at Tel Aviv University (and, as such, the only person in the room dressed formally, in jacket and tie), said later. "But Israelis and Palestinians had never talked about archaeology - not at Camp David, not at Taba and not in any other place - even though archaeology touches on the roots of the conflict between us and the Palestinians."

The agreement, which is written in English, contains a preamble and three sections. The preamble states that Israel and Palestine "constitute a unified archaeological landscape divided by political borders," and therefore, even after an agreement to partition the country is reached, it will be very desirable for the two states to consult with each other on "cultural heritage issues of joint interest."

The section devoted to the "immobile heritage" states that each side will be obliged to treat equally all archaeological sites in its territory, "regardless of their religious, ethnic, national or cultural affiliation." This means that if the Na'aran synagogue, in Jericho, or "Joshua's altar," on Mount Ebal, end up in a Palestinian state (the agreement does not refer to the fate of specific sites, because it assumes that the borders will be decided as a result of political negotiations), they will receive the same protection as is accorded to Acre's Ahmad al-Jazar Mosque.

Whether or not Jerusalem ends up being divided between Israel and the Palestinian state, or whether a "special regime" will be introduced in the Old City, as called for in the Geneva Initiative, the agreement recommends that the two sides establish a special "heritage zone" in the city, because Jerusalem's archaeological importance "extends far beyond national borders." The heritage zone would stretch beyond the Old City walls to the Mount of Olives in the east, Silwan (City of David) in the south, the "Tombs of the Kings" in Sheikh Jarrah in the north, and the ancient Muslim cemetery in Mamilla in West Jerusalem. Building and development restrictions are to be imposed in the heritage region, which would be under the supervision of UNESCO (the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture).

Blow to Israeli identity

The agreement's most sensitive section bears the prosaic title "Mobile Heritage," and states: "The artifacts excavated subsequent to June 4, 1967, should be returned to the state in which their original archaeological context is located." The implications of that dry sentence are dramatic: Everything Israeli researchers have discovered over 40 years of excavations at more than 850 antiquities sites in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would be returned to the Palestinian state, under the terms of the agreement.

"There is no finding from the West Bank that towers over all others, there is no finding of extraordinary symbolic value, with the possible exception of the altar attributed to Joshua, which Adam Zertal uncovered on Mount Ebal, or the tomb which, according to the researcher who found it at Herodion, is the one King Herod was buried in," says Prof. Ran Boytner, an Israeli-born archaeologist from UCLA, who initiated the drafting of the document, together with Prof. Lynn Dodd, from the University of South Carolina.

The most severe blow to Israeli archaeology - or, more accurately, to Israeli identity - lies in the following sentence, in the same section: "Artifacts residing in museum collections which were taken over subsequent to June 4, 1967, shall be repatriated." Every archaeologist understands the implication of this principle: When Israel conquered East Jerusalem in June 1967, it took the Dead Sea Scrolls - documents and text fragments that had been discovered in the Judean Desert by French and Jordanian researchers in the 1950s - from the Rockefeller Museum, where they were then held. True, these are not the whole and magnificent scrolls Prof. Yigael Yadin and his father, Prof. Eliezer Sukenik, purchased from antiquities dealers (that is, from antiquities robbers) before and after Israel's establishment, and which are held and displayed at the Shrine of the Book, at Jerusalem's Israel Museum. Still, the volume of the scrolls that were discovered during the period of Jordanian rule far
exceeds what Israel possessed beforehand. There are many who believe that these texts are the most important archaeological find ever made in Land of Israel excavations. Everyone agrees that they are the most sensitive and most symbolic find - direct written regards from our Hebrew-speaking forebears, and among the most ancient texts of the Bible we have. Under the agreement, the Dead Sea Scrolls would revert to the Palestinians.

"Under international law, in every future peace agreement the Israelis will have to give back everything they excavated and everything they found in museums," Boytner says. "But archaeology, after all, has tremendous symbolic significance, and it is clear that many Israelis will declare that under no circumstances will they return elements from the Jewish heritage to the Palestinians. We wanted to prevent that, and see what Israel will be able to get in return for handing over the finds, how it will be able to ensure the preservation of the Jewish heritage."

Boytner is an expert in South American archaeology, and he is well aware that the Western powers systematically plundered the treasures of other nations. "In the colonial era," he relates, "the ambassadors of Britain, France or Germany were in charge of stealing the local cultural treasures in order to prove the superiority of the white race." That era is over, and even though the laws prohibiting the plunder of antiquities were passed only in the 1950s, whereas the thefts took place hundreds of years earlier, the pressure to return the finds to their countries of origin is still continuing. Only recently, for example, Yale University was compelled to return finds discovered at Machu Picchu to the Peruvian government.

In an attempt to bypass sensitive issues, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, a special annex to the agreement recommends that the sides "consider loan and exchange arrangements" with regard to finds of "deep symbolic value." In other words, the Palestinians agreed to consider the possibility that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which undoubtedly possess symbolic value, will revert to their ownership, but will be on loan to Israel for 999 years. Another recommendation geared toward placating the Israelis states that the finds will be returned only when an appropriate arrangement is available for them and that Israeli scholars will be given five years to complete their research on finds already discovered.

What the project organizers lacked was a factual database: where Israeli researchers excavated in the West Bank since 1967 and what they found there. To obtain that information, Dr. Rafi Greenberg and Adi Keinan, from Tel Aviv University, had to go to court to force the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration, responsible for excavations in the West Bank, to provide the data. A database now exists, and will soon be accessible to everyone. "There is no tradition of archaeological discussion on social issues," Greenberg says. "I think it would be proper to discuss archaeology before reaching an agreement, because as long as archaeology is not on the agenda, it looks like an easy issue. When it becomes part of the agenda, it could bring everything crashing down."

Politics vs. archaeology

Shuka Dorfman, the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), considers any attempt to link politics and archaeology invalid. "We were presented with political statistics here," he said, referring to the database of Israeli excavations in the territories. "The minute you say that Jerusalem is occupied territory, that is political. This document is an attempt to bring politics into archaeology. I am forbidden from making political calculations - I do purely professional work. We have to leave these matters to the decision makers. Archaeology does not belong to the archaeologists."

The other speakers, archaeologists who are not employed by the Antiquities Authority, disputed the contention that there is no connection between archaeology and politics. "Archaeology is the instrument for building national identity, and it grants the right to claim territory," said Prof. Ze'ev Herzog, from Tel Aviv University. "That is how it was with us, and that is how it still is with the Palestinians."

The IAA takes an unequivocal position with regard to the return of finds, above all the scrolls. "The Dead Sea Scrolls are the property of the Jewish people across the generations and they will remain in our hands," says Uzi Dahari, the Authority's deputy director. "There are things we will not agree to take on loan. They are ours, and the international convention is not relevant to them."

Prof. Hanan Eshel, from Bar-Ilan University, a researcher of the scrolls and a longtime adversary of the IAA, said, "I am one of the only two religiously observant Jews here," and added that he "is in fact not opposed to ownership of the scrolls being transferred to an international body instead of Israel. The most important thing is that it not remain in the hands of the Antiquities Authority." Boytner said that the true archaeological value of the scrolls is of little importance, as most researchers in any event use photographs of them. "They possess symbolic and political value, and therefore a political solution is needed for them."

Dahari, who was involved in returning all the finds Israel excavated in Sinai to Egypt after the peace agreement was signed, says the West Bank is a different story because it was never considered occupied territory. Greenberg says he is wrong and that international law will apply to Israel, too. Beyond all these disputes, it is clear the most complex question will involve Jerusalem. Apart from the scrolls, the bullae (seals) discovered in the City of David are among the most important finds made by Israeli archaeologists across the Green Line. And besides, how is it possible to divide archaeology in a 3000-year-old city that was divided for only 19 years? Hence the idea of the "heritage region," which is more or less congruent with the boundaries of Jerusalem at its height, in the 10th century CE.

One of the more surprising advocates of the city's archaeological unification was Prof. Nazmi Jubeh, one of the heads of the Palestinian negotiating team. "Can you tell me what the difference is between the archaeological finds from the Bronze Age in the western part of the city and the finds from the same period in the eastern part?" he asks. Jubeh confirms that the Palestinian team agreed to loan certain items to Israel for long periods, but thinks the very fact that doubts are raised about his readiness to preserve Jewish finds pulls the ground from under him as an archaeologist. "By raising these questions, you present Israel as having singular ownership of the Muslim history in Israel," Jubeh says. "The history of this land is the sum of all the histories of the people who lived in it. The Roman period does not belong to the Romans. You will not want the synagogue at Na'aran to be dismantled, just as I will not want to dismantle the Jazar Mosque in Acre. You cannot deprive me of
the Jewish past of this land. It belongs to everyone."

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