Saturday, October 06, 2007

Abu el-Haj: archaeology, scholarship - settler archaeology

Here, I will explore what might be termed Israeli settler archaeology, through Nadia Abu el-Haj's (2001) facts on the ground: archaeological practice and territorial self-fashioning in Israeli society and the critiques of it. In many respects, this post stands alone, but it provides documentation for claims made by myself and others in other posts about the Abu el-Haj controversy.

[Posted on the 27th of October 2007.]

Excavations for settlements, excavations in Occupied Territories

In (September) 2004 (reproduced on a blog in 2005), archaeologist Prof. Aren M. Maeir reviewed facts on the ground, defending that, '[a]lthough archaeology in Israel has been misused for nationalist purposes during the twentieth century, this is now a thing of the past'.

As archaeologist Jeffrey Yas (2000: 22) noted,
According to Israel's Law of Antiquities, no new construction can proceed without building sites first being checked for archaeological remains. Consequently, construction of settler homes and tourist infrastructure has prompted numerous salvage excavations throughout the valley.
That does not necessarily contradict Maeir as far as archaeological interpretation is concerned (it could still be non-nationalist), but it does necessarily affect archaeological practice, as archaeologists' work facilitates Israeli settlement of the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

As far as archaeological interpretation is concerned, however, Yas (2000: 23) went on to say that,
This professed neutrality, however, ignores the role of archaeology in the service of tourist development, which in the case of Silwan is transforming a living village into a place called "The City of David."

The antiquities produced through archaeological research in Silwan are being arranged to narrate the much contested Biblical story of David conquering the Jebusite City. Beyond re-inscribing the village with this new symbolic meaning as "Jewish space," the practice of archaeology is physically reshaping the village, having in several cases paved the legal path for Jewish settlement expansion....

The use of archaeological sites to reshape the land into historical landscapes assists Israel in its co-optation of places like Silwan in ways that bulldozers never could.
The United Nations Division for Palestinian Rights (UNDPR, 1998) documented the settlement of five Palestinian homes in Silwan by 'radical settlers' of the El-Ad Movement in June 1998 alone, '[p]eace activists'' protests against which, 'Israeli police violently dispersed'.
[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu said that... the Government was actively encouraging settlement at Silwan. It was reported that there were 20 Jewish families, all members of the settler group Elad, living in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, and many more had signed up to move in. (Jerusalem Post, 8 December)
(For a reiteration of Netanyahu's position, see also the report of the United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (UNSCIIP, 1999).)

There has been good news.

Meron Rapoport (18th February 2007a) reported that,
a court [the Jerusalem Court of Municipal Affairs] ordered it [the Ateret Cohanim settlement association] to seal up a seven-story building it erected in Kfar Silwan and evict its Jewish residents. This is the first time settlers will be forced to evacuate a building in East Jerusalem since the association began its settlement activities there after the 1967 Six-Day War.

.... No construction permit was ever issued for the building[, but t]he Jewish families moved in, under police guard, in April 2004, after the Palestinian family that had been living there was evicted.... Each family paid $250 per month to the Committee for the Renewal of Jewish Settlement in Silwan, which is associated with Ateret Cohanim.
According to the Civic Coalition for Defending the Palestinians' Rights in Jerusalem (CCDPRJ, March 2007a), in Hullwah Valley, '[in] an order from [the] municipality court to cancel demolishing a commercial storehouse in Maghribi gate area.... judge Bitav decided that [the] municipality order was rushed, does not rely on legal basis, and stands on falsified information'.

And, in Rababah Valley, when 'Israeli archaeology authority continued excavations at Silwan... on land belong[ing] to Ghalib Sheikh close to Dajani property, both families forced the authority to stop working'. All of these cases show that the laws can, sometimes, be enforced.

The City of David

Yet, before that, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD, 6th June 2005) had publicised that,
The Municipality of Jerusalem intends to demolish an entire East Jerusalem neighborhood -- 88 homes housing 1000 residents -- in the el-Bustan area of Silwan village in East Jerusalem, close to the walls of the Old City.

The reason, according to the City Engineer, Uri Shitreet, who issued the orders, is that this area is an important cultural and historical site for the Jewish nation because it stands on the site where King David established his kingdom. The aim, says Shitreet, is to return this densely-populated Palestinian part of the city "to its landscape of yore." The operation, the largest demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem since 1967, is code-named "The Cherry in the Crown."

.... Shitreet thus bases his decision to demolish on the fact that the "King's Valley," as he calls the Bustan neighborhood, has been designated by the Israeli authorities as "open green space," therefore off limits to Palestinian building even though the home-owners own the land.... [I]nternational law prohibits Israel, as an Occupying Power, from imposing its own laws and regulations. Nevertheless, Shitreet has instructed city officials to deal "most forcefully" with building code violations, and says that the process of bringing law suits against the Palestinian residents has already begun....

Silwan – or "The City of David" as it has [been] rechristened by the Israeli authorities who opened a visitors' center on the site -- is considered the site where the city of Jerusalem began, and thus it is coveted by Israeli settlers who have conducted an aggressive campaign to remove Palestinians from the place. In fact, a settler organization called El Ad focuses exclusively on the Silwan area, and does so with discreet help from the Israeli government. In 1992 Haim Klugman, then-Director General of the Ministry of Justice, issued what became known as the Klugman Report.

It reported that tens of millions of dollars had been given to the settler groups, including El Ad, by government ministries; that false documents supplied by Arab collaborators had been used to classify Palestinian houses as "absentee property;" that the Israel Lands Authority and the Jewish National Fund had allotted much of Silwan to the settlers without offering it up for tender; and that public funds had been used to finance the settlers' legal expenses.

.... More than likely it comes from above, from Sharon government officials anxious to placate the settlers over the Gaza redeployment by presenting them with a Jewish neighborhood on a prime site next to the Old City – and with an archaeological garden in place of the Palestinian residents....
As Meron Rapoport (23rd September 2005) noted, '[t]he Klugman Committee... exposed the direct link between [head of Ateret Cohanim] Matti Dan and the housing minister at the time: Ariel Sharon'.

ICAHD went on to say that,
As for Shitreet, he vows to continue his plans of mass demolition "no matter what pressures are brought upon me." He has many instruments at his disposal. Houses built before 1967 are not "illegal" and there exists no legal way to destroy them. Nor, because of the statute of limitations, is there a legal way to demolish houses built without a permit more than seven years ago.

These technical obstacles Shitreet intends to remove by use of statute (5)212 of the Israeli Laws of Building and Planning. "The building offense runs out, but there's no statute of limitations on using the illegal house, so we can bar residents from entering their homes, even if we can't destroy them," Shitreet says.

By sealing the homes and preventing their Palestinian residents from entering them, he can then demolish them as "abandoned" or "absentee" property. Statute 5(212) was last used in 1967 to clear much of the Old City of its Palestinian inhabitants. And that, as Banks [sic - pro-settlement Moledet Party leader Uri Bank] says, is Zionism.
Historic character

Scott Wilson (11th February 2007):
The Israeli government is funding the first construction of a Jewish settlement in the Old City's Muslim Quarter since taking control of it nearly four decades ago. The Flowers Gate development plan calls for more than 20 apartments and a domed synagogue that would alter the skyline of the Old City.

Karain's property is at the center of an accelerating campaign by Jewish settler organizations to change the ethnic and physical character of this city's oldest Arab neighborhoods. The Israeli government is financing projects that dovetail with the settlers' goals, which they say are to secure the Old City and an adjacent valley for Israel in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians....

Israel seized the Old City, the adjacent valley known as the Holy Basin and the rest of East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, later annexing them...., but the annexation is not recognized internationally....

That partnership has been revived in pursuit of identical goals. The same settler groups are working now in tandem with the government as they purchase Palestinian property at a time of deep recession in the occupied territories, build new housing and promote the Jewish historical claim to the Old City and Holy Basin.

The Israeli government plans to spend $106 million in the area on housing development, tourist centers and historic renovation near contested religious sites through 2013 -- money that began flowing last year....

Elad, works with the National Parks Protection Authority, the Jerusalem municipality and the Jewish National Fund, an agency that controls large tracts of land in the Holy Basin purchased in the 1920s by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild.

The Klugman Commission said government agencies gave Elad privileged access to at least two dozen houses in the area, including some seized from Palestinians under the absentee-property law Israel imposed after the 1948 war.

Elad says it and its partners control more than 55 percent of the Holy Basin. The organization owns the City of David visitors center, the entrance to some of Jerusalem's most important archaeological sites....

Elad sometimes offers three times the market rate for homes near important archaeological sites, Beeri said. "We must do this in a legal way on the free market. And in doing so, we think we can change the future of this part of Jerusalem."
Barrister Kevin Chamberlain (1st october 2005) stated that:
Following the 1967 conflict when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza there was intense archaeological activity. Objects were removed in two ways – officially by the Israeli occupation authorities, or clandestinely by individual Israeli soldiers, civilians and, unfortunately in some cases, even by Palestinians.

Israeli military operations, the construction of settlements and their communicating roads, and more recently, the construction of The Wall, have meant that archaeological sites are constantly being uncovered. (It is estimated that there are around 4,000 such sites.)

.... It is also alleged that Israeli excavations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) are politically motivated, namely, to uncover evidence of ancient Jewish settlement so as to bolster Israel's current settlement policies. Conversely, it has been alleged that Jewish artefacts discovered by Palestinians are often destroyed or sold so as to remove any excuse the Israelis might have for constructing new settlements in the area where such artefacts may have been discovered....

For example, Moshe Dayan, the former general and Israeli defence minister, had a rapacious appetite for valuable archaeological finds. Dayan accumulated his extensive private collection through unauthorised and unscientific digs, both in Israel and in the OPTs, using Israeli soldiers and army helicopters. While acting as Minister of Defence he blocked important anti-looting legislation. The collection remained with Dayan until his death when his widow sold it to the Israel Museum for $1 million.
Symbolic violence

Chamberlain reported that,
The Art Newspaper of 9 September 2005 condemned in strong terms the deliberate destruction of parts of the historic cities of Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron describing it as amounting to "a symbolic attack on the Palestinian presence in the territory."

The article reported that in the ancient city of Nablus the Al-Khadrah mosque had been 80% destroyed; the Al-Satoun and Al-Kabir mosques, converted Byzantine churches, had been 20% destroyed; 60 historic houses had been demolished (and 200 others partially demolished); the 18th-century eastern entrance to the old market had been destroyed; seven Roman cisterns and at least 80% of the paved streets had been ruined.

UNESCO's World Heritage office has condemned these acts of vandalism, describing them as "crimes against the cultural heritage of mankind."
International humanitarian law

Chamberlain explained that:
As belligerent occupier of the OPTs, Israel remains bound by what is known as "international humanitarian law." In the context of the protection of the cultural heritage the most important instrument of international humanitarian law is the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which Israel is a party.

This Convention obliges the Contracting Parties to refrain from launching any attack against cultural property unless strictly justified by military necessity. Contracting Parties must also prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to, any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property and to refrain from requisitioning movable cultural property.

A Contracting Party in occupation must as far as possible support the competent authorities of the occupied country in safeguarding and preserving its cultural property. These provisions implicitly prohibit an occupying power from excavating and removing archaeological material from the territory it occupies.
Nevertheless, occupation and destruction of Palestinian homes in Silwan continues: in Wadi Helweh, '[t]he Israeli police handed the Faraj family an eviction notice ordering them to vacate the premises in 24 hour[s] on June 6, 2007, claiming that the house had been bought by settlers' (CCDPRJ, June 2007b); and, in Sh'aab el-Eneb, '[o]n June 7, 2007 Jerusalem's occupation municipality bulldozers demolished the family home of 68 year-old Othmanah Amran Ibrahim Yasini, which housed a family of four' (CCDPRJ, June 2007b).

Meron Rapoport (23rd September 2005) reported that:
This magnet is now being approached by the members of Ateret Cohanim, the best known among the organizations of Jews who have settled in the Old City. Through the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Ateret Cohanim is at the moment conducting a dig at a depth of 12 meters beneath the building belonging to it [on Hagai Street in the Old City(?)], which is 80 meters away from the walls of the Temple Mount.

But members of the organization are not satisfied with digging deep down, in one of the most sensitive places in the world. They are also digging along width-wise, to the east, in the direction of the Temple Mount, beneath the houses of Palestinian residents.

A year and a half ago, Ateret Cohanim decided to renovate the building on Hagai Street. Any construction activity in the Old City needs a permit from the IAA.... In the case of the Hagai Street structure, the IAA simply needed to issue a permit for renovation.

The excavations on the site, [IAA Jerusalem district director Jon] Seligman explains, were done only at the request of Ateret Cohanim and with its funding. "They are the entrepreneurs. They are the clients. They determine the financial context. They are involved on a daily basis, as those who are present in the field," he says. "In this place, we serve as their contractor."

.... "They [Ateret Cohanim] are enthusiastic about the First or Second Temple periods," he [Seligman] explains. "They have an agenda. But I don't have to dance according to their agenda, on this issue I do have something to say. I won't allow them to destroy antiquities the Cardo or the bathhouse because of their enthusiasm for one period or another."

Prof. Maeir (2004) stated that, '[i]f one looks at archaeological thought and interpretation in contemporary Israel, only marginal elements act in accordance or identify with the nonscientific agendas that she [Abu el-Haj] attempts to delineate', yet Rapoport (2005) went on:
Ateret Cohanim is a large and convenient client. About 40 percent of the IAA's budget, which is slightly over NIS 100 million, comes from private sources such as building contractors, but also institutions such as Ateret Cohanim as well.
They may only be marginal elements, but they appear successfully to have co-opted the respectable, professional majority (perhaps though taking advantage of their very commitment to professionalism and the salvage of archaeological sites).
In the Jerusalem area, confirms Seligman, Ateret Cohanim and Elad (the Jewish organization that operates in the City of David, in Silwan) are the largest private clients. Just recently the IAA completed a very large dig at Herod's Gate which, although it was ordered by the Housing Ministry, was done on behalf of Ateret Cohanim.

Ateret Cohanim also likes the IAA. "One of the people in Ateret told me that he prefers working with the IAA 'They're expensive, but convenient for us,'" says someone who was involved in the dig at the site. "It's not correct to talk about dialogue between Ateret Cohanim and the IAA," he adds. "It's more correct to talk about a monologue: Ateret Cohanim says, and the IAA does."

.... Attorney Seidman claims that it is actually very clear to whom the subterranean space belongs: to those living above it. "Construction beneath someone's private home is trespassing," he says. "Even for the Western Wall tunnel they had to receive permission from the Palestinians who lived above it."

The Antiquities Law (Chapter 7, clauses 82a and 82b) states that the administration of the IAA "is allowed to declare that a certain place is an antiquities site; the declaration will be published. When the administration has made the declaration, a comment will be written in the property records and the owner and possessor of the place will be informed, if his identity and address are known, as will the District Committee for Planning and Construction." Needless to say, the members of the [Palestinian] Asala or Zorba families were not informed....

Dror Etkes (22nd November 2006):
Approximately 40 percent of the area of settlements is privately-owned Palestinian land, according to the Civil Administration... dispossessing Palestinian residents of their lands, whose private ownership even the State of Israel does not dispute....

From 1967 to 1979, the Israeli military administration in the West Bank made widespread use of the process of "acquiring land for security purposes" to grab thousands of dunams of land under private Palestinian ownership. These lands were in practice used for the purpose of expanding the settlements.

Although "acquiring land for security purposes" in an occupied area is permitted according to international law, it is also limited to a certain time. The High Court of Justice rejected the petitions the landowners submitted against the acquisitions, basing itself on the argument that the settlements do indeed have an added security value, as they are located in the heart of an area where a hostile population lives.

That is, permanent settlements were established on lands whose acquisition was meant to have been temporary to begin with. To this day, dozens of settlements owe their legal existence to the absurd ritual in which the OC Central Command signs an extension of the acquisition orders for the lands on which they sit, while declaring that he is convinced the land in question is "necessary for military purposes."

.... As a result of the Elon Moreh case [in 1979, in which the settlers refused to recognise their settlements as temporary security measures], the construction of settlements in the territories, which only accelerated during those years, switched to two parallel tracks: the first, the pseudo-legal one, in which the government of Israel, assisted by the legal advice from the industrious Plia Albeck, declared huge tracts of the West Bank to be state lands.

And in that way, without Israeli governments ever having to provide any sort of accounting, not for the questionable way in which these lands were declared state lands, nor for the very fact that these land were allocated only for Jews (even though they were and remain a small minority of the West Bank population), the settlement enterprise became entrenched.

The second track...: the governments of Israel continued to initiate or "only" to enable the construction of settlements, neighborhoods and outposts on private lands without even bothering to issue acquisition orders, because after all, the High Court of Justice would probably have disqualified them.

Meron Rapoport (20th March 2007b):
The [Israel] Antiquities Authority [IAA] has been digging in the area for years now, with funding from the Elad Association. Among other things, the association works to judaize Jerusalem and received responsibility from the state for managing the City of David. Last year the Authority began digging a tunnel 10-meters deep, which runs from the pool of Silwan to the walls of the Temple Mount.

Prof. Reich, who manages the excavations in the City of David, presented the findings to the Archaeological Council's members. The Antiquities Authority managers claimed this was "a rescue dig." The [IAA-supervising Israel Archaeological] Council members had a hard time accepting this claim.

Prof. [David] Ussishkin: "I protest the director's remarks. I don't think it can be argued that this is a rescue dig, when it has already been going on for 10 years. This is an initiated [research?] dig in every respect. And it can be called such, but I don't agree that this is a rescue dig."

.... [Prof. Yoram] Tzafrir also raised a professional point.... Tzafrir mentioned that [City of David excavation director] Prof. [Roni] Reich himself, in one chapter of an archaeology guidebook he wrote, noted that the lengthwise excavation method adopted in the tunnel is a 19th century practice and not accepted today....

District Archaeologist Yuval Baruch: "As far as the excavations in the tunnel are concerned, there have been many discussions and decisions made unintentionally. We are aware that this is not the ideal method [and therefore] there will be openings for criticism."

Tzafrir: "I think it's possible to learn enough from the exposure of part of the street and there is no need to excavate everything."

The council chairman [Prof. Ephraim Stern] summarized the discussion: "I think there is something to the members' claims that in Jerusalem work is not done with the Council's consent...."

.... The Prime Minister's Office did not address the matter of pressure on the Authority to dig and in the past stated: "Rescue digs are conducted by the Antiquities Authority anywhere in Israel where there is concern over damage to archaeological sites or where it has been decided to carry out work on them."
Etgar Lefkovitz (5th September 2007) reported on a study of where in Israel and the Occupied Territories archaeology had been done and when:
approximately 1,500 excavations had been carried out at some 900 different sites across the Green Line over the last four decades, which comes to about 15% of the total number of excavations conducted in Israel during that time.

The study, [by] Dr. Rafi Greenberg and Adi Keinan of the university's Department of Archeology and Near Eastern Studies, found that the peak of academic involvement in the excavation of east Jerusalem occurred in the first decade following the unification of the city in 1967, while the height of academic activity in the West Bank came between the rise of the Likud to power in 1977 and the first Palestinian uprising in 1987.
Discussing the practice of archaeology in the Occupied Territories, Meron Rapoport (17th December 2006) noted that:
He [the Staff Officer for Archaeology (SOA) in the Civil Administration] is not even obligated to make public the fact that he is digging at Batir/Betar [in the Occupied Territories]. He is in charge of issuing excavation permits in the territories, he carries out most of the digs himself, he takes the finds to his storerooms, and he does not have to report to anyone about his actions or to publish his findings. If he wants to, he will publish; if he does not want to, the findings will sink into eternal oblivion....

International law prohibits archaeological digs in occupied territories, other than rescue digs, and the findings may not be removed from those territories - to do so is considered antiquities theft. The upshot is that the staff officer for archaeology holds sole responsibility for all archaeological matters beyond the Green Line. (The SOA, like Education Minister Yuli Tamir, knows exactly where the Green Line runs). Nor is he subject to the authority of the Antiquities Authority, which approves and supervises all digs within Israel proper....

With the first intifada, Israeli academics began to abstain from carrying out digs in the West Bank. "Maybe they were afraid, maybe they began to understand the political significance of their actions," Greenberg suggests. Many international professional journals refuse to publish studies based on digs done in "controversial" areas, such as the West Bank.

As a result, the SOA conducts nearly all the digs done now in the West Bank. According to Greenberg's figures, from 1993 to 1998, the SOA, Magen, conducted 95 percent of the digs in the West Bank himself. Only nine of the 171 excavation permits that Magen issued went to academic institutions. Since 1998, another 300 excavation permits have been issued, nearly all to Magen....

Greenberg believes that excavating in occupied territory is problematic. "An occupying force arrives from outside and makes unilateral decisions, without consulting the local residents," he says. "Archaeology has social significance, because you are taking part of the landscape and giving the archaeologists a kind of veto power over it. That's why archaeologists must be transparent; we must report to the public on what we are doing. We, as historians, must be sensitive to such matters. We have to know that what is being done in the territories is a crime."
Dr. Amnon Ben-Tor (29th December 2006) pointed out that,
Since the year 2000, excavation permits were issued in the West Bank for 147 sites. Of them, 20 can be classified as "Jewish" (14%), and a small number as Canaanite sites, whereas the vast majority are sites from the Byzantine and Muslim periods.
None of the reports enable us to assess whether there was any bias in the size and/or significance of the excavations (whether, say, the 86% of excavations that were "non-Jewish" were small experiments or explorations, while the 14% of excavations that were Jewish were extensive investigations of major sites).

Either way, it ignores the inability of the occupied community to give consent to the archaeological work: according to the International Press Center, in 2003, then Palestinian Authority Department of Antiquities Director-General Ayman Hassouna 'pointed out that when the occupation authorities excavate in "settlement" lands, that are in fact occupied territories, don't take anyone's permits' (link not included in bibliography). Moreover, as noted earlier, even Israel's own Antiquities Authority doesn't have control over the Civil Administration's archaeological excavations.

Abu el-Haj's aspiring peers, Diana Muir and Avigail Appelbaum (31st May 2006), certainly weren't on-message when they bluntly stated:
She asserts that "Jewish national commitments" help determine where archaeologists will dig and what will be displayed to the public. Certainly they do. Of course.... Digs cost money and national pride undoubtedly contributes to the prioritizing of certain sites over others the world over.
(Archaeologist Dr. Rafi Greenberg said that it was 'natural for Israeli archaeologists to take an interest in the history of their people' (Rapoport, 17th December 2006).)

Unfortunately, from this - albeit brief, basic - review, it would appear that Prof. Maeir's claim that nationalist archaeology in Israel was 'a thing of the past' is incorrect (although that is not to say that it is dominant); however, if Nadia Abu el-Haj claimed that the archaeologists doing the archaeology were nationalist, rather than that the archaeology getting done was nationalist, she might also be, at least partially, incorrect.

(Some quoted paragraphs broken for readability.)

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