Haredim Step Up Protests Over Nazareth Excavation

Unknown individuals damaged the car of the director of excavations and surveys for the Israel Antiquities Authority, Gideon Avni, between Saturday evening and Sunday morning. The car, which was parked in Maccabim-Reut near Modi'in, had its tires punctured. The car's locks were filled with glue, and bags of a foul-smelling substance were thrown into the yard of Avni's home in the community. A similar incident occurred about three weeks ago at the home of IAA director general Shuka Dorfman.

Haredi protest
Gil Eliahu

There is speculation that the incidents may be connected to an archaeological salvage dig in Nazareth where ancient graves have been discovered. The IAA is conducting excavation work at the site on Paul VI Street in the center of Nazareth, prior to the construction there of a commercial center being built by a Nazareth businessman opposite the Church of the Annunciation. The project will include underground parking and a hotel.

Early yesterday morning, 19 ultra-Orthodox Jews arrived at the scene of the dig and attempted to stop the work. Police prevented them from entering the site and detained them for questioning.

Yesterday afternoon, Rabbi Avraham Froelich of the extremist ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit arrived at the site and tried to get the excavation work stopped, but he left a short time later. About 50 opponents of the dig, who view the excavation as a desecration of the graves, arrived shortly afterward, however, and attempted to get into the site but were restrained by police, who detained several of them for questioning. Dozens of police remained at the scene throughout the day. Among the those at the site to deal with the incident was Northern District police commander Shimon Koren.

The IAA has said graves at the site date from the Intermediate Bronze Age (2200 B.C.E. ), the Middle Bronze Age (2000 B.C.E. ) and the Iron Age (1000 B.C.E. ). The graves were situated in a series of burial caves, access to which was through a shaft. Some of the caves were in use during all the periods involved and others only during the Middle Bronze Age. The finds at the site include bronze objects, mostly bracelets, pottery, pitchers, oil lamps and a small number of bones. Some of the bones are of animals.

The IAA said it is carefully collecting the bones, according respect to the dead, and the bones will be transferred to the Religious Services Ministry at the conclusion of the dig. The IAA said the salvage dig is expected to be of short duration.

Spokesmen from the Eda Haredit said the protests in Nazareth will resume today and continue until the archaeological excavation work on the site is suspended. According to notices distributed in ultra-Orthodox areas of Jerusalem yesterday, some of the leadership of the Eda Haredit is scheduled to head to Nazareth today to protest what the group says was "the cruel continuation of the desecration" of what it says are Jewish graves. Yesterday transportation was arranged to bring ultra-Orthodox demonstrators from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh to the Nazareth construction site.

The Nazareth site is the third focal point of controversy over building sites in which ancient graves have been discovered, following protests in Ashkelon at the Barzilai Medical Center and in Jaffa at the Andromeda Hill apartment project.

Rabbi David Shmidel, chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Atra Kadisha organization, who was involved in last month's protests against the building of an emergency room on an ancient grave site at Barzilai Medical Center, referred to the issue at the time as a matter in which "the evildoers have taken control of the graves."

Construction at the disputed site in Jaffa has been suspended.