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Archaeology in Jerusalem: Digging Up Trouble

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Davita
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« on: January 30, 2010, 05:45:57 pm »

Archaeology in Jerusalem: Digging Up Trouble



Contested ground Workers at a site in East Jerusalem have uncovered bones and other evidence of early habitation
Yoray Liberman — Getty for TIME

Jerusalem syndrome is a psychological disorder in which a visit to the holy city triggers delusional and obsessive religious fantasies. In its extreme variety, people wander the lanes of the Old City believing they are biblical characters; John the Baptist, say, or a brawny Samson, sprung back to life.

Archaeologists in the Holy Land like to joke that their profession is vulnerable to a milder form of the syndrome. When scientists find a cracked, oversize skull in the Valley of Elah, it can be hard to resist the thought that it might have belonged to Goliath, or to imagine, while excavating the cellars of a Byzantine church, that the discovery of a few wooden splinters might be part of the cross on which Christ died. This milder malady is nothing new. In the mid-19th century, British explorers who came to Jerusalem with a shovel in one hand and a Bible in the other used the holy book as a sort of treasure map in the search for proof of Christianity's origins. (See a video of the Pope visiting the Holy Land.)

Now an extreme case of the willful jumbling of science and faith is threatening Jerusalem's precarious spiritual balance. It could not come at a worse time: Israeli-Arab peace talks have stalled; Israel has a hawkish government disinclined to compromise; and radical Islamist group Hamas remains powerful among Palestinians. Any tilt in Jerusalem's religious equilibrium could create a wave of unrest spreading far beyond the city's ramparts. Eric Meyers, who teaches Jewish studies and archaeology at Duke University, says: "Right now, Jerusalem is a tinderbox. "

The story begins with a right-wing Jewish settler organization called Elad, but also known as the Ir David Foundation, which for the past four years has exerted control over most of the holy city's excavations. Led by David Be'eri, an ex-Israeli commando who used to disguise himself as an Arab for undercover missions in the Palestinian territories, Elad now has the backing of the Israeli Prime Minister's office, the municipality, and the vaunted Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which monitors all archaeological work in the country and which Elad helps finance. Elad's own funding comes through unnamed private donors. (Israeli newspapers have reported that a few Russian-Jewish oligarchs, including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, attended a 2005 Elad fundraiser.) The organization's aim is best expressed in a religious website's 2007 interview with development director Doron Speilman. He gestures toward Silwan, an Arab neighborhood that spills down from the Mount of Olives, and says: "Our goal is to turn all this land you see behind you into Jewish hands."
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Davita
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« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2010, 05:46:47 pm »

Elad's activities, in the views of its opponents, amounts to turning over Jerusalem's archaeology to extremist Jewish settlers. That has alarmed many Israeli and international scholars, Palestinian officials, and human-rights advocates. On a political level, it complicates efforts by the White House to enable both Palestinians and Israelis to share Jerusalem as their respective capitals, a key demand of the Palestinians. For scholars, it sparks concerns about whether Elad can be independent and objective in its work. And for Jerusalemites it raises a fundamental question: What matters more, the stones and bones of antiquity, or the lives of the people who live on top of all that history?

Digging In to Push Out
Because it involves burrowing near the geographic core of three faiths — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — archaeology in Jerusalem has always been fraught. All three religions believe that it was here, on a stony hill, under roiling clouds speared by light, that God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son. Christians also believe that Jesus walked, taught and was crucified in Jerusalem, and that he rose from the dead there. Muslims say that in the early days of Islam, Prophet Muhammad prayed first in the direction of Jerusalem before turning to Mecca, and that he was once transported by a flying horse to Jerusalem where he ascended to heaven. The city is embedded in the psyche of every Christian, Jew and Muslim.
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« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2010, 05:47:03 pm »

The flash point in the dispute is Silwan, an Arab village now listed in Israeli guidebooks as the City of David. It lies on the steep hillside just below the Old City's ancient, gleaming stones, facing towards the Dead Sea. Most of Silwan's Arab residents arrived in the 1930s, building homes that cling to the sides of the valley. Arab boys still canter on horses along the far hills. Some say that Job lived in Silwan, and that today's residents have inherited his ceaseless woes. According to Elad's Spielman, Be'eri was doing undercover work for the Israeli military in the mid-1980s in Silwan when a friendly Arab pointed out some ruins buried under a pile of garbage. "We know this is yours, we know this is your archaeology," the commando reported the Arab telling him.
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« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2010, 05:48:05 pm »

For Rothschild, Be'eri and a succession of 20th century archaeologists the lure was a powerful one: evidence of David's reign would be proof that a major Old Testament protagonist was a true historical figure, and not mere legend. Politically, the discovery of David's citadel would strengthen Jewish claims to a contested part of Jerusalem beyond its pre-1967 borders.

Late on a chilly October evening in 1991, Jewish settlers commandeered 11 buildings in Silwan and dug in. The case went to Israel's Supreme Court and Ariel Sharon, then Construction Minister (and later Prime Minister), rallied to the settlers' defense, arguing that "it is the policy of the government of Israel to encourage Jewish residence in Jerusalem." The settlers were allowed to stay, and Elad began building its presence in Silwan. The Israeli government turned over its property to the settlers, and Elad bought up Arab homes through intermediaries. Today, more than 500 settlers, along with Uzi-toting security guards, live among Silwan's 14,000 Arabs. Elad's archaeological expansion continues, with 88 Arab homes marked for demolition to build an "archaeological park." The group also has plans for a parking lot, a synagogue, 11 new houses for settlers and a cable car to the Mount of Olives, where many believe the Messiah will arrive.

  http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1957350,00.html
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« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2010, 05:52:30 pm »

With official Israeli backing, Elad has ambitions beyond Silwan. Lawyer Seidemann claims that since mid-2008, the Israeli government has accelerated a policy of "aggressively and covertly expanding and consolidating control over Silwan and the historic basin surrounding the Old City." The plan, he says, involves "the take-over of the public domain and Palestinian private property ... accelerated planning and approval of projects, and the establishment of a network of a series of parks and sites steeped in and serving up exclusionary, fundamentalist settler ideology." In its essence, the plan places a large area of Arab Jerusalem under Jewish control. "It risks transforming a manageable, soluble political conflict into an intractable religious war," he warns. For their part, many religious Israelis defend Elad's efforts to unearth their buried heritage. "For us, and for anyone who believes in the Bible, this is the real history," says Urieh King, a Jewish settler and activist. "These are our roots."
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« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2010, 05:52:54 pm »

But many experts find Elad's archaeological claims dubious. Israel Finklestein, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University says that while there may be ruins on the Elad site dating back to the 9th century B.C., "there's not a single piece of evidence about David's palace. These people are mixing faith with science." Yoni Mizrahi, an independent archaeologist formerly with the IAA, concurs: "You'd think from Elad's guides that they'd excavated a sign saying WELCOME TO DAVID'S PALACE. Their attitude seems to be that if you believe in the Bible, you don't need proof." Raphael Greenberg, lecturer at Tel Aviv University, says Elad ignores key archaeological practices. "You're supposed to dig for six weeks and then report on what you find. In the City of David, they've been digging nonstop for two years without a satisfactory report," Greenberg says. He accuses Elad of using archaeology as a "crowbar" to "throw out the Palestinians living in Silwan and turn it into a Jewish place."
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« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2010, 05:53:09 pm »

All excavations in Jerusalem are overseen by the IAA, and its director, ex-General Shuka Dorfman explained to TIME that while Elad manages and funds more than a dozen digs around Jerusalem, an IAA archaeologist is always on-site to analyze findings. Dorfman concedes that the settler organization's interpretation of its findings in Silwan "is different from ours." He adds: "They emphasize only the Jewish heritage." Sometimes, according to archaeologist Mizrahi, the Elad-sponsored digs ignore other strata of Jerusalem's multi-cultural history. "They're only focusing on one tradition — the Jewish one," he says.

He has a point. In 2008, it emerged that while Elad-sponsored archaeologists were digging near the Western Wall, they found and removed dozens of skeletons from a Muslim graveyard without properly documenting the find, according to Haaretz, an Israeli daily. The skeletons have since gone missing. After a barrage of complaints against the IAA by academics, Palestinians and civil rights groups, the agency's chairman, Professor Benjamin Kedar, conceded in a statement that the IAA is "aware that Elad — an association with a pronounced ideological agenda — has presented the history of the City of David in a biased manner." So far, though, the cash-strapped IAA says it has no plans to review its ties with the settlers, who are its main funders.
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« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2010, 05:53:25 pm »

A Fragile Peace
Naturally, archaeology's Jerusalem Syndrome is not limited to a single religion. Many Muslim scholars refuse to believe that a Jewish temple ever existed beneath the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, even though thousands of Jews flock every day to pray at the Western Wall. The Waqf — Jerusalem's Islamic authority — made Jews furious in 1999 when they built an underground mosque inside the Haram al-Sharif and, according to irate Israeli scholars, gouged out "several hundred" trucks' worth of debris, destroying evidence that might shed light on Judaism's holiest site. "This was politically motivated," fumes archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, who leads a team of volunteers that has spent years sifting through large mounds of material from the sacred precinct that was rescued from a city dump. "In places where you should have used a toothbrush, they used a bulldozer."

But few projects threaten Jerusalem's peace as much as that at Silwan. In 2007, Arabs there began hearing strange banging under their homes "like an earthquake," one resident recalls. Soon, cracks opened up in the floors and snaked up the walls. The Silwan residents protested against the settlers' tunneling, without the necessary permits or safeguards. "All that happened was that the police arrested us," complains Jawan Siyam, a Silwan local. Elad was opening up a 650 yd.-long (600 m) drainage tunnel, running under Arab homes, that Elad claims dates back 2,000 years, and may have been used by Jewish rebels to escape a Roman siege. Civil rights groups last year got the Supreme Court to suspend the diggings. In its ruling, the court said that the local authorities had failed to obtain consent from the owners of the houses marked for demolition.
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« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2010, 05:53:52 pm »

Could Elad's work upset Jerusalem's fragile balance between Islam and Judaism? Palestinian historian and Waqf religious affairs archaeologist Yousef Natsheh believes so. He points out that one of the main triggers of the 2000 Palestinian uprising — which led to the deaths of more than 5,500 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis — was a visit to the Haram al-Sharif precinct by Sharon, then Israel's opposition leader, along with a phalanx of armed police. "The situation now is very, very tense," he warns.

It shouldn't be. Jerusalem is one of the world's richest archaeological sites. In its 6,000-year history, the city has changed hands more than 120 times. It has been ruled — and this is an incomplete list — by Jebusites, Israelites, Romans, Persians, Greeks, crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans, British, Jordanians and modern Israelis. "We Jews are not alone here," says archaeologist Finklestein. Would that all who treasure the holy city — of any religion and none — could agree on sharing its sacred past.
— With reporting by Yonit Farago, Jamil Hamad and Aaron J. Klein / Jerusalem

See pictures of 60 years of Israel.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1957350-2,00.html
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