The Israel Antiquities Authority has established that the tombs uncovered in the area of the French Hospital near the Andromeda housing complex in Jaffa are not Jewish.
This was announced after an examination of the site revealed that the burials contained pig bones, allowing archaeologists to conclude that they were not Jewish burials.
The antiquities authority based its conclusion on tests conducted by the Israeli Institute of Archaeology, and the opinion of Prof. Guy Bar-Oz, head of the archaeology laboratory at the University of Haifa.
The area, at the corner of Louis Pasteur and Yefet streets, had been the scene of stormy demonstrations over the past year by protesters from the ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit, who claimed that archaeological excavations at the site were desecrating Jewish tombs.
Two months ago, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition against the excavations.
The tombs were discovered during construction of an underground parking garage for a five-story hotel that is to be built on the site. The authority's announcement means that the developer can now go ahead with the work. Yossi Levi, the authority's archaeologist for the central district, said: "It's easy to identify the characteristics of Jewish burials. These are clearly not the burials of Jews; we have no doubt about it.
"We found tombs from three periods: the Persian, the Byzantine and the Muslim. Crosses were carved at the entrance to two tombs. Some of the funerary offerings included parts of the jaw bones of pigs, which was very common to pagan burials. Everything we know tells us that these were not Jewish burials."
Levi said the excavations were monitored by the Religious Affairs Ministry and the bones were handed over to a representative of the ministry.
Rabbi David Shmidel, head of Atra Kadisha, the group behind the protests at the site, rejected the antiquities authority's conclusions. "We assume that the people buried here were Jews, and so we are going to continue the struggle," Shmidel told Haaretz.
"We heard the story about the pigs. Not long ago a private archaeologist hired [to appear] in court, told an unlikely story about pigs. Who is buried with pig bones in a burial cave? Not Jews and not non-Jews," Shmidel said.
Shmidel said Atra Kadisha would be persuaded to stop its protests if what he termed a higher level of proof emerged, for example, an inscription.
"What happened was that we were not allowed to go into the construction site itself, but we saw tombs at a a nearby site, at 38 Yefet Street, and from the form of the burial it looked very Jewish to us. Therefore, we still assume these to be [the graves] of Jews. Why not? We are continuing the struggle. If you ask what our response is to the official opinion you are telling us about, as far as we're concerned it's as if it does not exist."
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