A right-wing organization active in settling Jews in controversial parts of East Jerusalem, is providing the funds for excavations by Tel Aviv University archaeologists on a contentious site near the City of David.
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The excavations funded by the Elad organization have drawn the ire of Palestinian residents, as well as international and Israeli left-wing organizations. Some archaeologists say that the methodology – tunneling under village houses, and the speed at which the excavations are to be performed – violates accepted professional norms.
This is the first time a university has decided to formally take part project in such an excavation. The dig will be conducted by Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology in coordination with the Israel Antiquities Authority, which will transfer funds from Elad to the university.
According to an internal TAU memo, funding for project leader Yuval Gadot's salary will be transferred from the Antiquities Authority to the university. The Antiquities Authority will also fund TAU's analysis of the findings.
Elad (a Hebrew acronym for El Ir David, To the City of David) has served as administrator of the City of David on behalf of the Nature and Parks Authority since the late 1990s; separately, it has been active in purchasing structures and setting up Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.
According to the left-wing Emek Shaveh, Elad's declared purpose is the creation of a contiguous Jewish presence along the southern slopes of the Temple Mount.
The decision of the archaeology institute to participate in the project has been brought to the attention of the TAU heads; the final draft of the terms of the agreement between the university and the Antiquities Authority is due to be signed soon.
The excavation plans envisions work in what is known as area E, in the lowest part of the park, adjacent to the El-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan, where the Jerusalem Municipality is planning to establish a park called "King's Garden."
Critics question the role of Elad in the dig. It's hard to believe that the Antiques Authority, with its meager budget, has suddenly found sources to fund someone else's projects, says archaeologist Yoni Mizrachi of Emek Shaveh.
TAU archaeologist Prof. Rafael Greenberg, another Emek Shaveh activist, is more outspoken: This is a clear politicization of research. Whoever is familiar with the area is aware that all the diggings are annexed to Elad, supervised by Elad, and separate from the site of the City of David. In practice, the project is to become part of Elad's settlement drive.
Rejecting the criticism, TAU Institute of Archaeology Director Prof. Oded Lipschitstold Haaretz that academic standards would be maintained. The heart of biblical archaeology is in Jerusalem and the City of David. For that reason, I approached the Antiquities Authority and expressed our will to carry out work in the area, Lipschits said. The goal of the digging at the City of David is to carry out a form of 'clean' archaeology. Of course the project has to take into consideration the elements active in the site and running the national park. We will cooperate with Elad, since they run the site, but we will maintain our standards. We won't agree to be subjected to political interests."
TAU's response: the Archaeology Institute at Tel Aviv University carries out digging projects in various sites in Israel, and attaches special importance to diggings in Jerusalem. As far as research is concerned, any digging under the auspices of the university is carried out without any compromises concerning professional ethics."
The Israel Antiquities Authority's response: The Antiquities Authority has been carrying out excavations and research in the City of David National Park for many years with the goal of promoting development, tourism and research. Our important and professional work in the site has withstood the test of the High Court of Justice on two separate occasions. The archaeological work is in coordination with the Nature and Parks Authority and Elad Association. We welcome, and we're proud of the important future cooperation with Tel Aviv University.
Elad's response: According to the Antiquities Law of 1978, the Antiquities Authority is responsible for the relevant permits concerning archaeological diggings, and supervises the projects. Elad chose not to comment on the project's funding.