Sunday, January 9, 2011

An ‘alternative’ archaeological tour of Jerusalem

Yonathan is one of the founding members of Emek Shaveh, a non-profit organization composed of archaeologists, Silwan residents and human rights activists, which aims to “hut light on the vital role of archaeology in the Israeli-Palestinian quarrel.” Yonathan worked as an archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) for many years. Sent to work in East Jerusalem he witnessed firsthand the collusion of government, academic institutions and Israeli interest groups in utilizing archeology for political purposes.

The City of David archaeological site lies in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians and the international community define as occupied country. Stretching down from the Dung Gate of the Old City, the site bisects the village of Silwan - splicing the Palestinian district in two. Although its presumed historical significance not to mention its illegality under international law, Israel allows the site to be the country’s only privately owned and administered “national” park. Israel has chosen for this role the Elad Association, an Israeli organization that funds Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. The Israel Antiquities Authority helps to legitimize Elad’s activities and particular vision of history by monitoring the excavations on its behalf. Elad also enjoys the support of both the Israeli Prime Minister’s office and the Jerusalem Municipality.

The archaeological digging has destabilized the structure of many buildings in Silwan, cracks have opened up in floors and walls, and gaping holes have appeared in Silwan’s streets after heavy rainfall. 88 Palestinian homes have been given destruction notices in order to build the “archaeological park.” Elad has little incentive to respect the rights of those living on or near the site.

In the blessed land today it is impossible to separate archaeology from politics. Archaeology is used in the battle over differing narratives. Yonathan attempts to explain Elad’s logic: “If the past can be proven to belong to ‘us’ then the present and future should be ‘ours’.” In the quest to suitable more land, the building of tourist parks and the expansion of archaeological sites is presented as an academic and thus innocent activity. Yonathan wonders how the scientists, archaeologists working at the dig, can separate themselves from the apparently inherent political ramifications of their work considering their surroundings.

During recent tensions resulting from the government announcement of more settlements in East Jerusalem, aggravation and anger were taken out on a guard post at the exit of the tourist site. The little metal box that once contained Israeli armed security personnel has been burnt to a brittle. The guns were not there to protect local residents, but rather to protect settlers and tourists from these residents. The ‘alternative’ tourists on our archaeological tour gape and wonder at the charred wood as we make our way out of the City of David and onto the residential streets that may be bulldozed someday soon.

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For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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