Israel Probing How It Provided Misinformation on West Bank Archaeology

State failed to inform court of agreements with private companies to conduct digs in West Bank.

The Civil Administration has launched an investigation into how exactly it supplied wrong information in response to a Freedom of Information request on archaeological activity in the West Bank.

The probe is meant to elucidate why erroneous information was provided, to consolidate recommendations to prevent recurrence, and to take administrative steps against any of its people who may have erred.

The incident took place in the summer of 2014, when the organizations Yesh Din and Emek Shaveh filed a Freedom of Information request, asking what licenses and allocations had been granted regarding archaeological and historical sites in the West Bank. Their purpose was to elucidate how many such sites are managed by settlers or associations or organizations affiliated with the right wing.

In response, the Civil Administration said the only two agreements were site management agreements regarding Tel Shiloh (believed to be the site of the biblical city of Shiloh, by the settlement of Shvut Rachel) and Susia, which has the remains of a synagogue and a mosque built on top of it. At a hearing on the Freedom of Information petition held in 2015, Civil Administration officials repeated that these are the only two agreements in force regarding the management of archaeological sites by private bodies.

In practice, there was at least one more site licensed for management by setters: Emet Habiyar in Gush Etzion, by the town of Efrat. It is managed by the Gush Etzion Development Company.

Following on that information, Yesh Din and Emek Shaveh sued in the High Court of Justice, claiming the company is managing the site improperly, without formal allocation to it. In December 2016, the Civil Administration admitted there is an agreement in place with the Gush Etzion Development Company regarding Emet Habiyar.

“It is difficult to overstate the gravity of the matter: The respondents, in a Freedom of Information procedure, delivered incorrect information,” wrote attorney Shlomi Zecharia, representing the organizations, adding that they had tried to obtain answers from the administration before suing, but it “chose not to respond. Even after the petition was filed, the respondents did not take the initiative to correct the mistake,” Zecharia wrote. They only provided an update on the topic after time.

The military attorney general for the West Bank wrote to Zecharia that both the Civil Administration and he himself take the incident seriously.