Extreme Exposure: Archaeology in Jerusalem
By Raphael Greenberg
From: CONSERVATION AND MGMT OF ARCH. SITES, Vol. 11 Nos 3–4, 2009, 262–81
A long series of excavations has been carried out since 1967 by Israeli archaeologists in ‘uniﬁed’ Jerusalem. Proponents have characterised this work as revolutionary and inspired by ‘a free academic spirit’; critics have viewed it as part of the ‘Jewish-colonial-nationalist project’. The truth of these views, which are not mutually exclusive, lies very much in the eye of the beholder. Despite the uniﬁed legal framework governing the excavation of Jerusalem, there is neither a single outlook nor an overarching plan in its conduct. Different excavators — and perhaps more signiﬁcantly, different development agencies — have worked to different ends in Jerusalem, using a wide variety of means.
Three stages may be discerned in the conduct of archaeological work in Jerusalem since 1967. The ﬁrst two, spanning the ﬁrst three decades or so of Israeli presence in East Jerusalem, may be characterised, by and large, as ‘ofﬁcial’ in outlook, i.e., governed by concerns of the central government and by the municipal leadership; the third, spanning the recent decade, is highly factional in outlook, i.e., governed by the pressures exerted on an increasingly decentralised authority by special interest groups, primarily those of the ideological-religious right. The conclusion of this paper puts forward some ideas for alternative action by archaeologists in Jerusalem, based on current concepts of best archaeological practice and on a proactive stance on archaeological ethics.
keywords: Israel, Palestine, Jerusalem, conflict, legislation, ethics
2. Stage I, 1967–77: exercising the right of return
3. Stage II: the less the better
4. Stage III: full of passionate conviction
5. Conclusion: can archaeology further the peace of Jerusalem?
In August 1909, the British adventurer and self-styled archaeologist Montague Parker, acting upon information received from a Finnish scholar with mystic leanings, began to excavate a series of galleries and tunnels near the spring and pool of Silwan (Silberman 1982, 180–8). These tunnels, it was hoped, would eventually lead to the heart of the Temple Mount, or al-Haram ash-Sharif, and reveal the treasures of King Solomon’s temple. After several fruitless seasons spent in recording the intricacies of ancient Jerusalem’s water systems together with Jerusalem’s leading archaeologist, Pére Louis Hugues Vincent (Vincent’s description of these conduits later became the cornerstone of all subsequent investigations of the problem), Parker decided, in April 1911, to cut to the heart of the issue by bribing Waqf ofﬁcials in order to gain access to the cisterns and halls beneath the Haram itself. The uproar caused by the presence of foreigners in the inner recesses of the Haram led to the ignominious ﬂight of Captain Parker’s expedition from the wrath of the Ottoman ofﬁcials.
figure 1 (click to enlarge)
Map of recent excavations
in the Old City of Jerusalem
(courtesy Daniel Seideman)
In March 2007, 96 years after Parker’s debacle and in what can only be termed a bizarre coincidence — if not the product of a ﬁne sense of historical irony (a possibility highly unlikely in view of the character of the individuals involved) — Turkish authorities were once more asked to oversee excavations near the Haram. And while these Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) excavations at the Mughrabi Gate were certainly not a clandestine treasure hunt like that perpetrated by Parker, another team of IAA archaeologists was — again by mere coincidence? — engaged in the mining of a subterranean gallery which some hoped would lead from the pool of Siloam, beneath the village of Silwan, to the base of the Temple Mount/al-Haram ash-Sharif.
The Mughrabi Gate and Silwan excavations (Figs 1 & 2) are but the last in a long series of excavations carried out since 1967 by Israeli archaeologists in ‘uniﬁed’ Jerusalem. Proponents have characterised this work as revolutionary and inspired by ‘a free academic spirit and a deep sense of the trust borne by the scholars engaged in [it]’ (Geva 1994, xiv). Critics have viewed it as a project of physical transformation ‘co-implicated in the Jewish-colonial-nationalist project’ (Abu el-Haj 1998, 167). The truth of these views, which are not mutually exclusive, lies very much in the eye of the beholder. Despite the uniﬁed legal framework governing the excavation of Jerusalem, there is neither a single outlook nor an overarching plan in its conduct. Different excavators — and perhaps more signiﬁcantly, different development agencies — have worked to different ends in Jerusalem, using a wide variety of means.
figure 2 (click to enlarge)
Preparations for excavation
on the Mughrabi ramp, 2007
In the following pages I would like to focus on the recent trends in the archaeology of Jerusalem. In some ways, this will be a complement to Nadia Abu el-Haj’s critique of about a decade ago (Abu el-Haj 1998), which focused on the dominance of wars and politics in popular presentations of Jerusalem’s antiquities as well as the manner in which the past was used to legitimate the Israeli presence in the Old City; in others, it will be a commentary on that critique. In contrast to Abu el-Haj, I will suggest that the way the past is presented by the tourism industry is not a sufﬁcient yardstick for evaluating archaeological practice. The preserved archaeological remains in Jerusalem are neither the only nor the most important product of Israel’s archaeological activity since 1967. With Abu el-Haj I will attempt to show how archaeology is still being exploited to further exclusionary narratives by various interest groups.
Since all archaeological practice is socially situated, it would perhaps be appropriate to point out some primary facts about Jerusalem. The population of greater Jerusalem (that is, East and West combined, as unilaterally deﬁned by Israel) presently stands at about 780,000 souls. These may be roughly divided into three parts: the Palestinian and largely Islamic accounting for about 34% of the population, the Jewish ultra-orthodox, perhaps 21%, and the Jewish-Zionist sector (ranging from orthodox to secular), comprising about 45% (all unofﬁcial ﬁgures, based on information culled from the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies website: http://www.jiis.org.il). The ﬁrst sector is also the poorest in terms of economic, cultural and political capital (Margalit 2006), due not only to the fundamental power imbalance and disenfranchisement (with rare exception, Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not citizens, and consequently lack the right to vote in national elections), but also to a determination to avoid any cooperation with what is considered by Palestinians to be an illegal occupation. The second sector is nearly as poor as the ﬁrst, but is rapidly capitalising on its demographic growth and internal discipline in order to form the dominant political element in the city. The third sector still comprises Jerusalem’s economic and cultural backbone, and holds the traditional bastions of the Israeli elite, including the Hebrew University and much of the central government administration.
In terms of their afﬁnity to archaeology, the ﬁrst two groups may be said to be equally indifferent: neither the Palestinians nor the ultra-orthodox have ever turned to archaeology in order to legitimise their centuries-long presence in the city. The third group, itself subdivided into more and less conservative elements in religious terms, and into several socioeconomic classes, is the only one to which archaeology holds much relevance. It may be safely stated, in fact, that archaeology has only ever been important for a small portion of Jerusalem society. This small segment, however, represents the potential archaeological interest of a much greater portion of Israeli society outside Jerusalem, not to mention that of the international community.
In other words, Jerusalem’s academic excavators carry the torch for Israel’s secular community, although that latter community has generally tended to avoid physical presence in the city, even as tourists!
As representatives of a secular, academic approach to Jerusalem’s history, the Israeli excavators of Jerusalem ﬁnd themselves in a peculiar position: their discipline and training require of them to uphold a dispassionate approach to excavation and interpretation, while their principal clients — developers, ofﬁcers of the public, ﬁnancial underwriters, the tourist industry — expect to see results that will legitimise their concepts of the history of Jerusalem. Israeli historian Yaacov Shavit, who has studied the history of modern Israel’s relation to archaeology, offers a concept that can help us to understand how Israeli archaeologists have handled their occupational dissonance. Shavit (1997) proposes that a division be made between a ‘greater’ and a ‘lesser’ archaeology (on analogy with Redﬁeld’s (1956) great and little traditions in anthropology). The lesser archaeology is that practised by archaeologists in their professional mode, and is the language of their internal discourse; the greater archaeology is the public and non-professional grand narrative that is used to market archaeology to the broader clientele. It is the lesser, behind-the-scenes archaeology that enjoys greater currency in professional circles, while the greater archaeology is the lubricant of popular support and funding.
Critical theory has long since exposed the impossibility of two hermetic discourses coexisting within a single framework of practice, let alone within the minds of individual practitioners. Yet the belief that archaeologists can ply their trade according to a set of rules that is completely neutral to their motivations, to the source of their funding, or to their social and political context, is a principle of faith for many of my colleagues (Mazar 1990, 32; Ben-Tor 1992, 9; Geva 1994). As part of this belief, many archaeologists who have excavated in Jerusalem have had little involvement in the post-excavation presentation of their results to the public, their contribution often limited to the provision of artefacts and descriptive texts.
Several stages may be discerned in the conduct of archaeological work in Jerusalem since 1967. The ﬁrst two, spanning the ﬁrst three decades or so of Israeli presence in East Jerusalem, may be characterised, by and large, as ‘ofﬁcial’ in outlook, i.e., governed by concerns of the central government and by the municipal leadership; the third, spanning the recent decade, is highly factional in outlook, i.e., governed by the pressures exerted on an increasingly decentralised authority by special interest groups, primarily those of the ideological-religious right. The ﬁrst two stages are covered in Abu el-Haj’s critique of the Israeli presentation of the past in Jerusalem; the last postdates it. My discussion of the ﬁrst two stages will therefore be an engagement with her work, whereas my treatment of the latest stage will be more descriptive. At the conclusion of this paper I will put forward some ideas for alternative action by archaeologists in Jerusalem.
This paper does not pretend to be a disinterested evaluation. As an archaeologist
who took his ﬁrst steps in the ﬁeld excavating at the foot of the Temple Mount with
Mazar (at age 12) and in the City of David with Shiloh (as an undergraduate), as an
Israeli who has experienced at ﬁrst hand the thrill of recognition in deciphering
ancient Hebrew ostraca, as a teacher who feels the full burden of responsibility for
educating young archaeologists to be reﬂective and involved social actors, and as a
citizen of Jerusalem who must live with the consequences of actions taken on the
ground by civil organisations and by leaders, I am deeply implicated in the issues that
I discuss below.
Stage I, 1967–77: exercising the right of return
The ﬁrst archaeological conference in Jerusalem following the six-day war took place in September 1967 (Aviram 1968). It is remarkable that, despite the presence of all of Israel’s leading archaeologists — Yadin, Mazar, Avigad and many more — and despite the participation of Chief of Staff Y. Rabin and several cabinet ministers, no mention was made anywhere of the future of archaeological excavation in the city, or of the need for any kind of proof of Jewish presence in the Old City. Nonetheless, there can be little doubt that the 19-year separation from the Old City, and the unusual (some would have said, miraculous) circumstances of the Israeli scholars’ return, whetted what was to become a voracious archaeological appetite.
It was certainly no accident that Benjamin Mazar and Nahman Avigad were chosen to head the ﬁrst major expeditions. Not only were they the senior active professors in the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, but both had begun their careers as excavators during British Mandate times; both had studied Jerusalem before its division by the 1948 armistice lines, and both therefore viewed the return of Jewish scholarship to the Old City of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty as poetic justice. A sense of entitlement pervades the publications in which their major ﬁnds were ﬁrst described (Avigad 1980; Ben-Dov 1982).
figure 3 (click to enlarge)
Removal of the last houses
leaning on the Western Wall;
photographed in the afternoon
of 16 June 1969 (Vilnay 1970,
327; reproduced by permission
of Ahiever Publishing)
In the event, excavations got underway only ﬁve months after the conference, and they were conducted in the largely empty lot adjacent to the south-western corner of the Temple Mount/al-Haram ash-Sharif. The main concern of the excavators was to secure the agreement of Jewish religious authorities for excavation so near the western wall of Herod’s temple. This agreement was reached thanks to a compromise engineered by mayor Teddy Kollek, according to which archaeologists were awarded everything south of the western wall praying area and religious authorities were given responsibility for everything lying to its north, along the western wall. The Ministry of Religious Affairs eventually used their privilege to excavate a tunnel along the entire length of the Haram wall. In the meantime, municipal authorities had swiftly destroyed the Mughrabi quarter, adjacent to the Haram wall, in order to create a large plaza (Fig 3). This was done with no archaeological involvement.
It was several years before the impact of the Temple Mount excavations on the cognitive map of Jerusalem began to be felt. These years were spent in the ‘lesser’ archaeological activities of clearance of large-scale construction from Byzantine and Umayyad times, as well as the removal of enormous quantities of ‘dumps’ (the accumulation of hundreds of years of refuse deposition). By the early 1970s, however, the excavations had extended to the south-east corner of the Haram, revealing extensive Roman-period remains along the way (Fig 4). The discoveries began to ﬁnd expression in a series of publications on the ancient topography of the Tyropean Valley and the Temple Mount; these publications and reconstructions all had Herod’s temple enclosure as their centrepiece (Ben-Dov 1982, 98–101; Ritmeyer 1989).
figure 4 (click to enlarge)
A visit by Israel’s prime
minister Levi Eshkol to the
archaeological excavations near
the south-western wall of the
Temple Mount in Jerusalem,
4 July 1968 (Fritz Cohen,
courtesy of the Israel Government
Press Ofﬁce, National Photo
Meanwhile, a second focus of excavations had developed in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. Here, high-level political decisions to completely raze and rebuild the quarter (which had been badly damaged during the 1948 war and after it, when Jordanian authorities had several synagogues demolished) were translated into extensive, year-round excavations. There was little prior indication of the extent or quality of the ﬁnds that could be expected in this area. It therefore came as a surprise to ﬁnd the wealth of architectural remains spanning the Iron Age to the Crusader periods. In preliminary reports on the excavation, Avigad (1980) describes in some detail the nature of the dialogue between archaeologists and developers, and claims to have reached ‘a golden mean’, whereby the methodological integrity of the excavations was upheld, and the most important remains were preserved either in open areas within the Jewish quarter or in basements beneath the modern buildings.
There can be little doubt that the ‘most important’ ﬁnds for Israeli excavators were the extensive — and to a great extent unexpected — remains of Iron Age and Early Roman Jerusalem, although in sheer bulk these were virtually equalled by later remains (mainly Byzantine and medieval in date). The manner in which these ﬁnds were eventually woven into the new narrative of Jerusalem’s — and the Jewish quarter’s — past has been described at length by Abu el-Haj (1998). Her critique is most effective where it illustrates the discourse of exclusion and power used in popular presentations of Jerusalem’s antiquities: the only signiﬁcant processes are those related to warfare and political authority. Her discussion of the manner in which Jewish remains are highlighted in the interests of Israeli presence in the Old City should be tempered by the following observation: given that every act of preservation and presentation is inherently selective, the choices made by the present rulers of Jerusalem should be viewed in the context of similar choices made by all previous generations of rulers and conquerors. Each had its own story to tell, and none is inherently morally superior to the others.
Of greater relevance to the thesis of this paper is the observation that neither of the two excavation projects described above, grand in scale and publicly funded, was begun with any overarching programme in mind. As they developed, their role in the physical transformation of the Old City emerged as their most prominent contribution. The lesser archaeology succumbed to the greater, and it was only decades later that detailed excavation reports began to appear, prepared by the successors of the original excavators (e.g., Geva 2000; 2003; 2006; Mazar 2003).
Furthermore, archaeology was also implicated — if in a less visible way — in a far more ambitious project with signiﬁcant political dimensions: the construction of new Jewish neighbourhoods east of the 1949 armistice line (the so-called Green Line). Extensive construction in the neighbourhoods of Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Giloh, East Talpiyot and, later, Ramot led to the discovery of extensive necropoli of Jewish Jerusalem, dating mainly to the early Roman period. Many of the tombs contained decorated and inscribed ossuaries, some of which continue to fuel controversy and ﬁre the imagination of Christian fundamentalist treasure hunters. In addition to the tombs scores of less celebrated sites were excavated, signiﬁcantly enriching archaeologists’ understanding of the environs of ancient Jerusalem and providing resources for a more complete archaeological history of the city.
In all, a close correlation may be observed between the extent and type of archaeological activity and the political agenda of the Labour-led government in the ﬁrst
decade of occupation: a heavy emphasis on establishing an Israeli presence in the Old
City and east of the Green Line, with the intent of permanently changing the political
status of Jerusalem (Berkowitz 2007, 238–9). This is the era of large-scale projects,
coupled with a secular — and to some extent even liberal — outlook that sees Israel
as the steward of world cultural heritage in Jerusalem. The nature of the discoveries
in the great projects made their contribution to the ‘greater archaeology’ an easy sell:
extensive remains of Judahite (Iron Age) and Jewish (early Roman) Jerusalem, alongside a healthy dose of Christian and Islamic antiquities to provide Israeli sovereignty
with the legitimacy of a liberal, multicultural orientation.
Stage II: the less the better
The downfall of the centrist Labor-led coalition in 1977 and the consolidation of the right-wing Likud government throughout the 1980s led to a change in the standing of Jerusalem in the Israeli agenda: despite the highly charged rhetoric and the passing of the 1980 Jerusalem Law (‘Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel’), the main ideological thrust of the new leadership was focused on the construction of settlements in the West Bank. In Jerusalem, the municipal leadership concentrated on buttressing existing neighbourhoods, especially those on the northern and southern periphery (Giloh, Ramot, Neve Yaakov and the new neighbourhood of Pisgat Zeev), and on an administrative expansion that would allow development of the city towards the west.
The archaeological reﬂection of this change in priorities may be characterised as a clear move towards a ‘lesser’ archaeology, led by a younger generation of academic and professional practitioners (an impressive summary of this work can be seen in Geva (1994)). The ﬂagship excavation of this era was the City of David expedition headed from 1978 to 1985 by Yigal Shiloh of the Hebrew University. Though conceived as a follow-up to the Temple Mount and Jewish Quarter excavations, there are several interesting differences in both concept and execution:
a) The area designated for excavation was, with some minor exceptions, an area that had long been set aside for the purpose; there was no appropriation of public or private land.
b) The excavation was designed and carried out after the manner of academic tell-type excavations: a two-month ﬁeld season followed by ten months of lab research.
c) An understanding was reached with the Palestinians residing near the excavation areas. Houses and plots were rented for the duration of the season and there was a degree of friendly — if almost entirely commercial — interaction.
figure 5 (click to enlarge)
View of Wadi Hilweh,
rear centre, and Silwan,
right, from south, with
Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif
in the background.
Despite the considerable importance of Shiloh’s results, the City of David excavations did not have the same impact on the cognitive map of Jerusalem as the earlier expeditions. This was no doubt due to its location below and away from the focus of religious interest in the Old City, within the densely settled Palestinian neighbourhood of Wadi Hilweh (often termed Silwan, after the large village to which it belongs) (Fig 5).
An important dimension of archaeological work during these years was a great increase in the study of the environs of the ancient city. Here, by chance, the development of the city and a shift in archaeological priorities occasioned by the rise of environmental and geographic (‘spatial’) approaches coincided. An extensive survey (Kloner 2000; 2001; 2003) and several important excavations and landscape studies in West Jerusalem (e.g., Gibson & Edelstein 1985; Eisenberg 1993; Edelstein & Milevski 1994) joined scores of salvage excavations in the northern and southern peripheries of East Jerusalem to provide materials for a new perspective on the history of Jerusalem.
Herein lays an interesting paradox: the important salvage work conducted in Stage I and especially in Stage II of Israeli archaeological activity in Jerusalem was occasioned — as far as practitioners were concerned — by a higher power; that is, the initiative was not archaeological. In fact, the initiative was entirely political in nature, but it created an archaeology that was able to see itself as entirely apolitical.
Moreover, this ‘apolitical’ archaeology was to a great extent invisible to the public. The scientiﬁc (‘lesser’) discourse was almost entirely conﬁned to professional circles, and the sites in question were destroyed, covered over, or left as undeveloped ‘nonplaces’ — anonymous islands in the urban sprawl of modern Jerusalem. There can be no doubt that this archaeological activity salvaged great quantities of information from the inexorable march of development. At the same time, its very lack of presumption resulted in its contribution going nearly unnoticed; few of the debates on Jerusalem take much notice of the potential contribution of the spatial and environmental analysis of the ancient countryside to the solution of problems caused by the problematic nature of operations within the city.
As if that were not enough, the salvage work is further marred by the misunderstanding by its practitioners of the social context in which they operated: what they viewed as ‘neutral’ science was, after all, cultural production — in this case, of an archaeological record; their education and pre-understandings inﬂuenced their motivation and interest, and these in turn governed methods of data retrieval and the way they presented their ﬁnds. This is easily demonstrated in the main showcase of Stage II archaeology, Ancient Jerusalem Revealed (Geva 1994). Divided into three headings, First Temple Period, Second Temple Period, and Later Periods, the thirtynine contributions are distributed as follows: tombs and burials (12), epigraphic ﬁnds (8), fortiﬁcations (8), art objects (3) and miscellaneous architecture (7). Only one contribution is devoted to a quotidian industry (Y Magen on the stone vessel industry), and none to any of the spatial or geographic issues that were quite popular by this time. The volume thus carefully reproduces the standard themes of Jerusalem’s archaeology since the 1970s.
Another blind spot of nearly all Israeli archaeologists was their indifference to the
emergence of a Palestinian school of archaeology in the West Bank, in tandem with
the coming of age of the Palestinian national movement during the 1980s (Glock
1994). With few opportunities for legitimate encounters with Palestinian academics,
most Israeli archaeologists saw the nascent Palestinian school as unprofessional, marginal and politically motivated. Thus was the opportunity missed by both sides to
become acquainted with alternative archaeological views of the same landscape and
history that they were studying. These alternative viewpoints included fundamental
issues such as the very deﬁnition of antiquities, the place of historical archaeology
and ethnography, or the identiﬁcation of indigenous people. In Israel, terminology
was naturalised to such an extent that any query regarding terms such as ‘First Temple
Period’, ‘Israelite settlement’, or ‘Herodian lamp’ was viewed as grounds for taking
offence, if not as an attack on Israel’s very right to exist (this is not far-fetched as it
may seem, in view of the zero-sum conceptions governing both Israeli and Palestinian
narratives of identity). In this sense, the ‘lesser’ archaeology absorbed the values of
the ‘greater’ archaeology, and contributed in turn to the reproduction of the latter.
Stage III: full of passionate conviction
The political year of 1992–93 was a remarkable turning point in the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem. At one end of it lay the electoral victory of Yitzhak Rabin and the Labor Party, which paved the way to the 1993 Oslo accords; at the other end stood the election of Ehud Olmert as mayor of Jerusalem, signalling the victory of a religious and right-wing agenda in the city and the splintering of secular and progressive forces. Galvanised by the threat to their settlement programme in the West Bank, the ideological right went into overdrive. In Jerusalem, a twopronged campaign was pursued, the one aimed at suppressing Palestinian political activity in East Jerusalem, the other at establishing a Jewish presence in as many locations as possible in the Old City and its environs. One key ﬁgure in this activity was city council member, the late Shmuel Meir, who died in a car accident in 1997. In a 2005 interview, Meir’s widow describes his mid-1990s activity:
His plans as council member included the expansion of Pisgat Zeev, building a promenade along thre Ophel, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, developing the Jehosophat [Kidron] Valley, construction at Herod’s Gate, developing the Western Wall tunnels, reconstructing the Horvah Synagogue, and above all the extension of Jerusalem’s sovereign borders by constructing the neighborhood of Har Homa [. . .] and the authorization of Jewish construction at Ras el-Amud on the Mount of Olives [. . .] He gathered various bodies that advocated for Jerusalem and called them ‘the Forum for Jerusalem’. The forum included, among others, Matti Dan from ‘Ateret Kohanim’, David’le Beeri from ‘Elad’, Haim Falk from the National Religious Party, Hanan Porat, Ketza’le, Uri Ariel, Soli Eliav from the Western Wall tunnels, Elisha Peleg and many others. (Shnor 2005)
This activity must be seen as the foundation of a new, hitherto unknown, intimate relationship between the ideological agenda of the Jewish settlement movement and archaeology in the historical basin of Jerusalem. Of the circle described in the above quote, three ﬁgures (Dan, Beeri and Eliav) are central to the ongoing campaign of acquisition, construction and excavation in the historical basin, while the others served or continue to serve as their political patrons. Within the discourse of their campaign, archaeology was, at ﬁrst, a minor component: in fact, it was perceived more as a hindrance than as a contribution to the cause, since any construction in Jerusalem requires complete excavation beforehand, which can often take years.
Here, several words on the role of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) are in order. In 1990, the IAA was created as a semi-autonomous government unit, replacing the former Department of Antiquities and Museums, which had been part of the Ministry of Education. The effect of the formation of the IAA was a rapid growth in its statutory capacities and manpower, which soon outpaced its budget. This, in turn, led the IAA to ever-increasing involvement in contract work vis-à-vis both public and private developers, under the ‘polluter pays’ principle. In its capacity as regulator of any construction activity in a declared archaeological zone, the IAA has the power to prevent or delay construction. However, in its increasing subjugation to rules of the market and a liberalised economy, the IAA has become increasingly dependent on projects funded by the developing agent. In this manner, the IAA has become a player in the politics of development in the historic basin, and often appears to be caught in a conﬂict of interests. Moreover, the very deﬁnition of the ‘clients’ of the IAA has undergone signiﬁcant change; under the market principle, the paying agent is the client, with all that this status entails.
After several run-ins with the IAA, the promoters of an expanded Jewish presence in East Jerusalem latched on to the idea of using archaeology to gain control of large tracts of public land: all open areas in the historical basin would be declared antiquities zones, and ideological NGO’s such as El‘ad would be subcontracted by the state to maintain and develop these areas. Within the walls, excavated areas — even those scheduled for new construction — could be similarly co-opted. The ultimate aim — it must be stressed — of all these groups was ﬁrst to create wedges of Jewish settlement in the interstices between Palestinian neighbourhoods that would prevent any political division of the city, and eventually to dilute the entire Palestinian presence in the historic basin (Hirschberg 1996). Archaeology provides physical and symbolic capital for this project, in the form of a narrative emphasising Jewish continuity and eliding other cultures, and relics that testify to such continuity. Furthermore, the nearer these relics are to the Temple Mount, the greater value they hold for promoters of the project, stressing the underlying messianic nature of their enterprise.
The ‘pilot project’ of this new, emboldened approach was the construction of a northern exit for the so-called Western Wall tunnel: a series of vaults, cisterns, carved channels and modern galleries joined together in order to allow passage from the Western Wall prayer plaza to the north-west corner of the Temple Mount/al-Haram ash-Sharif. Cleared at the initiative of the Ministry of Religious affairs, the tunnel system was, as of 1996, accessible to a limited number of visitors, since its only entrance was at its southern end, from the Western wall plaza. The seemingly innocuous decision, in October 1996, to allow through pedestrian trafﬁc in the tunnel by creating an opening at its northern end led to a wave of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank that cost scores of lives. This decision was announced by then mayor Ehud Olmert, who forced the hand of prime minister Netanyahu into publicly supporting it. But there can be little doubt that those who proﬁted most from the entire affair were the ideological-religious organisations located in the heart of the Old City — e.g., the semi-governmental Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Aish HaTorah Yeshiva and the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva — for whom the tunnels serve as a virtual lifeline, attracting thousands of tourists and providing an unrivalled opportunity for hours of intensive indoctrination (access to the tunnel is from the Western Wall plaza, and is limited to guided groups only; through passage for individual tourists or Palestinian residents of the Old City is not allowed). Politically, the tunnel incidents were also a bonanza for the fundamentalist Islamic opposite numbers of the Israeli NGOs. After 1996, as part of the understanding reached with Waqf ofﬁcials in the wake of the violence, archaeological inspection of the Haram ceased (Avni & Seligman 2006). A carte blanche was given to Islamic authorities to carry out unsupervised restoration and clearance in the ancient chambers and halls beneath the al-Aqsa mosque. Thus was archaeology implicated, and ultimately sacriﬁced, in the ﬁrst skirmish of the war of religions into which the Israeli-Palestinian conﬂict is gradually evolving.
The Western Wall tunnels had always been under religious jurisdiction and were, strictly speaking, a holy place where archaeology was tolerated. The direct exploitation of archaeology for the promotion of a religious-ideological agenda was left to what was soon to become the most effective of the Jewish settler NGOs, El‘ad (Hebrew acronym of ‘el ir-david’ [to the City of David]; Watzman 2007). In the early 1990s, El‘ad had attempted to consolidate Jewish settlement in the part of the Palestinian village or neighbourhood of Silwan built upon the south-eastern spur of ancient Jerusalem (the City of David). This settlement was to be realised through acquisition of Palestinian properties and by direct construction on open areas, with only a passing regard for archaeology. The political changes of 1992–93 entailed a shift in strategy, and beginning in the mid-1990s El‘ad became a central player in East Jerusalem affairs, obtaining a contract to manage the City of David National Park while not relinquishing its role in what it coyly terms ‘residential revitalization’ (Greenberg 2009, 42).
Having effectively changed its stance from petitioner to and sometime adversary of the IAA to that of developer, client and underwriter of public works, El‘ad obtained unrivalled leverage in the IAA, the Nature and Natural Parks Authority (NNPA), and other government ofﬁces at the regional and national level. As of the time of writing, the IAA has completed nearly 15 years of continuous excavation in the ‘City of David’, virtually all of it requested and funded by El‘ad, which has become the de facto planning authority for the Wadi Hilweh neighbourhood of Silwan. And, while the conduct of the excavations themselves has been left largely to the discretion of the excavators (though time constraints and research priorities have been affected by the agenda of the developers), the presentation of the ﬁnds to the public — including venues such as semi-academic conferences in which IAA excavators play a crucial role — has been left to El‘ad in a manner that I have described at length elsewhere (Greenberg 2009).
figure 6 (click to enlarge)
Wadi Hilweh: Palestinian (left
and right) and settler (centre,
with ﬂag) houses ﬂanking
Along with this overt exploitation, the elision of the Palestinians from the excavation process and from the historical narrative that accompanies it has intensiﬁed. The contrast between the enormous inputs into excavation and the crumbling municipal infrastructure is particularly vivid. Not only has there been no consultation with the people actually living among the excavation sites, but archaeological operations have become a permanent nuisance, adding another chapter to the tale of municipal dysfunction in one of the poorest areas of town (Fig 6). And not only have the non-Jewish periods of settlement been ignored in their presentation, but the entire thrust of the development of the site has been one that attempts to make the local inhabitants invisible to the casual visitor (Fig 7). Tourists are discouraged from entering Palestinian shops, they are directed away from the routes frequented by the Palestinian inhabitants, and various plans have been mooted to direct as much tourist trafﬁc as possible into underground galleries, where only the relics of the Jewish past will have a voice.
How have Israeli archaeologists responded to these developments? A number of prominent academics have offered some resistance: a 1998 suit to Israel’s High Court ﬁled by a group of archaeologists from the Hebrew University against the El‘ad monopoly on the archaeology of the Silwan basin resulted in a compromise according to which authorities were supposed to turn over the management of the park to a disinterested party. This compromise was not, in fact, effected, and El‘ad simply outlasted the effort to have it replaced.
figure 7 (click to enlarge)
Excavations at the Giv’ati
parking lot in Wadi Hilweh,
For most archaeologists, however, the residue of the ‘apolitical’ approach has come into play, particularly for the IAA excavators actually involved in the work itself. Drawing a line between their professional and social persona, academic and professional archaeologists involved in the excavations focus entirely on the technicalities of ﬁeldwork and the basics of interpretation. But the attempt to pursue the ‘lesser’ archaeology under these conditions rings hollow. Many rules of archaeological engagement are being bent and broken in the effort to accommodate the ‘clients’ — the funders and the settlers. This has become so blatant as to attract criticism even from the members of the usually quiescent Archaeological Council (Rapoport 2007).
Published excerpts from the council’s meeting in March 2007 testify to a critical
response to activities such as the excavation of horizontal, subterranean galleries
along the Roman period road near the Siloam pool, or the continued self-licensing of
excavations in the historic basin by the IAA, without consultation with the council.
At the time of writing of this paper, the pretence of a disinterested, ‘apolitical’
archaeology can, it seems, no longer be maintained. Using a local catchphrase, the
IAA excavators are increasingly exposed as ‘the Messiah’s donkey’ for the ideological
Conclusion: can archaeology further the peace of Jerusalem?
Proponents of the present archaeological activity in the historic basin often bring up the following arguments:
1. All the development activity currently under way in Jerusalem is strictly legal: excavations are statutory, and should be carried out by a publicly accountable body such as the IAA.
2. Since Palestinians in Jerusalem do not recognize Israeli sovereignty and do not cooperate with municipal bodies, there is no way to integrate them in the planning and conduct of archaeological activities.
3. Palestinian unlicensed construction threatens antiquities; all work in the historic basin is, by deﬁnition, salvage work.
These claims are technically accurate (at least through the eyes of Israeli law), but they are all based on a narrow and myopic legalistic perspective, as if each plot acquired or excavated is an independent entity, and as if there are no ways of sidestepping issues of political recognition in the interest of accommodation on the ground. Seen as a whole, construction and development in the historic basin have been motivated, over the last decade, primarily by sectarian interests on all sides. Left to their own devices, these interests lead Jerusalem down the path of religious conﬂict and away from any hope of political solution. Thus, the archaeological ‘salvage work’ in the service of ideological organisations is, in fact, working towards its own destruction: what will remain of Jerusalem’s archaeology once everything goes up in ﬂames?
For the sake of its own preservation, the archaeology of Jerusalem has a vested interest in stability and political accommodation. If such an accommodation requires a freeze on new construction within the historic basin and with it a halt to new excavations — this might be a price worth paying. International best practice, as deﬁned by widely endorsed charters and conventions, in fact recommends restraint in the excavation of historic cities and, moreover, a careful consideration of all periods in the city’s history when presenting the past (Turner 2005; UNESCO 1956). The decision regarding excavations should not be made on a case-by-case basis. Rather, the issues should be reviewed globally, public debate should be encouraged, and Palestinian inputs into such a debate should be solicited.
Individually, archaeologists should be encouraged to confront the ethics of their activities, identifying the broadest range of stakeholders, taking responsibility for the impact they make on the place in which they have chosen to excavate, involving local people in the decisions that affect their environment, mitigating the negative effects and enhancing the positive effects of their work. No one is absolved of individual ethical responsibility: being part of a larger organisation does not release us from our responsibilities to the general public any more than it releases us from our responsibilities towards our colleagues (best ﬁeld practice, publication, etc.). If we insist on being signatory to our publications, we must also be prepared to own up to the impact of our personal professional conduct on the human environment in which we ply our trade. Furthermore, individual responsibility entails group responsibility, requiring that archaeologists organise, speak out, create coalitions with like-minded actors in the ﬁeld, and protect each other from the potential fallout of their activities.
figure 8 (click to enlarge)
Wadi Hilweh, Silwan:
settlers’ house with guard-
post at left; excavation area,
with ﬂag, at right
Best archaeological practice, as deﬁned in most professional ethical codes, is most likely to succeed in a stable, tolerant environment. Archaeology conducted behind tall fences, or under cover of armed guards, is likely to fall prey to the latent violence in which it is engendered (Fig 8). There are many ways in which archaeology can be used to foster understanding between different groups, social strata, and religions. In Jerusalem, likely the most sensitive archaeological site in the world, international scientiﬁc cooperation should be aggressively pursued, introducing not only best archaeological ﬁeld practice but a protocol of professional monitoring of the quality of the work done and the decisions taken with regard to conservation and presentation. In the recently concluded recommendations drafted by the Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group, it is suggested that the entire historic basin of Jerusalem be redeﬁned as a World Heritage Zone (http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/religion/arc/sh/), where all cardinal decisions are taken only after broad consultation.2 It is the celebration of the city as a palimpsest of world cultures, rather than the exclusive property of this or that group — that will best afford archaeologists a constructive professional role.
The impetus for writing this paper has been my recent involvement in the debate
over archaeological policy in Jerusalem. While my ﬁrst acquaintance with the people
of Silwan came during my years as ﬁeld assistant in the City of David excavations,
this paper is based on conversations with present Palestinian and Jewish activists,
some of whom share my views and some of whom do not. The same may be said
of numerous friends and colleagues in the IAA and the Hebrew University who
have given me insight on present policy and on the ongoing work of the IAA in East
Jerusalem. ‘Ir ‘Amim provided important background information on the activity of
NGOs in Silwan and the Old City’. To all I express my thanks, with apologies for
any misrepresentations, for which I alone am responsible.
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