Yesterday, the alternative archaeology group Emek Shaveh published its most recent report on the extent to which Elad, the ultra-nationalist settler organization, has control over the presentation, excavation and development of archeology in Jerusalem, specifically in occupied East Jerusalem. The report outlines each of Elad’s six sites, emphasizing that “visitors are told an exclusive story of Jewish heritage and Israeli connection to the site, whilst other periods and cultures are almost entirely ignored.”
The report is welcome, as this time last month Israeli and Zionist media spun itself into a frenzy when a French consul general, Frédéric Desagneaux, dared to celebrate his consulate’s 150-year anniversary of work in Palestine, noting “the important archaeological projects that French archaeologists had helped to uncover in Palestine.” According to spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, Yigal Palmor, Desagneaux had only once mentioned the word Israel and, not even once used the word “Jewish.”
Palmor, expressed utter shock “that the French Consul General was joining forces with those who would rewrite history to reflect specific agendas and erase the Jewish and Israeli connection to the Land of Israel.”
In a statement published by the Israeli daily paper Ma’ariv, Palmer said: “It is unworthy for an official representative of France to provide assistance to this kind of propaganda, at the expense of fairness and historical truth.”
A week later, France gave the Palestinian Authority a €200,000 ($250,000) grant to help restore the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, eliciting a harrowed response by Giolo Meotti, writing in Artuz Sheva: “Supported by the French government, the Palestinian Arabs are trying to erase any trace of Jewish history in Judea.” (Judea and Samaria is the name Israel uses when referring to the West Bank).
Meotti detours briefly in his denunciation of France to point out that Israel had generously supplied “Arabs” in “Judea and Samaria” with running water after occupying them in 1967. But he quickly returns to his original point: “France, as ‘une puissance musulmane’ (‘a Muslim power’) with its historic politique arabe, the country which gave the world the Mohammed al-Dura blood libel, now fuels a cultural Intifada which is no less dangerous than rockets and shootings. Based on anti-Semitic lies, it creates the atmosphere for continuing conflict.” (In 2000, the television channel France 2 was condemned by Zionists for showing images of Muhammad al-Dura, a young child, being killed by the Israeli military).
Millions to hard-right settlers
The latest outrage is not surprising. After all, the Jerusalem Development Authority, in conjunction with Elad, spends millions annually on its various hubs throughout Jerusalem that promote the city as essentially Jewish. For example, Emek Shaveh’s report explains that in the early years of this century a cistern at the center of Silwan (the Palestinian neighborhood in which the City of David archaeological park is located) was “renamed ‘Jeremiah’s Cistern’ and was used to illustrate the story of the prophet Jeremiah.”
The report adds: “visitors would climb down into the cistern, where they would listen to the biblical story about the prophet Jeremiah and his imprisonment in a cistern.”
These theatrics successfully shroud the near-unanimous archaeological consensus that the cistern dates to the Byzantine period — at the very earliest.
Regardless, last May the state of Israel and the Jerusalem Municipality pledged four million shekels ($1 million) to produce a light and sound show in “Jeremiah’s Cistern,” including a reading from the Old Testament.
Emek Shaveh’s report describes itself as “committed to the idea that the operation of archaeological sites must be contingent upon a solution to the political conflict in Jerusalem. Archaeological activity in areas under political dispute strengthens the dominant power and hinders the possibility of reaching a political agreement.”
Elad, or the Ir David Foundation, is a messianic, right-wing organization that, in 1994, became the first and only private organization to maintain an Israeli national park — the City of David. In addition to managing the City of David and other sites in Jerusalem as outlined in the report, Elad actively settles Jewish families in occupied Silwan.
At the end of October, Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archeology announced that it would conduct an excavation at the City of David with funding provided by Elad.
The feverish response of Zionist voices to one French official’s mere recognition of Palestinian archeology is a reminder that culture, in this case, archeology, is crucial to Israel’s colonization of Palestine. By partnering with the chief facilitator of this process of appropriation, Elad, Tel Aviv University makes clear to the world that the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions must target Israel’s academic and cultural institutions.