Excavation work being carried out in the Jewish-Arab city of Lod has led to accusations that the municipality and Israel Antiquities Authority are trying to erase the city’s Arab past.
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In recent weeks, work was conducted around the central Israel city’s outdoor market, for the purpose of laying sewer pipes and expanding the market plaza. The IAA first approved the work after carrying out inspection excavations, but local activists maintain that the project is another step toward removing any memory of the pre-1948 Arab city of Lydda.
Dr. Tawfiq Da’adli, an archaeologist and Lod native, has been using high-resolution aerial photography taken in 1936 to study the city. The photos show a very densely built city with hundreds of buildings, courtyards, walls and more. Much of this disappeared in the years following the War of Independence, but the large mosque, the Church of Saint George and a number of other buildings – some in ruins, some uncovered in archaeological digs and now awaiting rebuilding – remain. The most important of these is the city’s large khan building.
Not far from it and the mosque is the city’s outdoor market, where the upgrading work has begun. In the course of this work, more remains of buildings and underground spaces dating from before 1948 have been uncovered.
Activists from the city tried to go to court to stop the work, but it was too late – and the city completed the excavations. Da’adli is sure there’s a connection between ancient Lydda’s cultural identity and the authorities’ disregard for preserving the structures found within the city.
“When it’s me confronting the municipality, they know it’s not a Bar Kochba situation,” Da’adli says. “I understand there are needs and that digging has to be done, but why not research everything in order to preserve the heritage of this place?”
The big problem for those seeking to preserve the old buildings is that most don’t meet the definition of an “antiquity” – which would make them eligible for protection. By law, an antiquity is an object or structure created before the year 1700. Most of the structures from pre-1948 Lydda were built after 1700. However, some were built on the foundations of older buildings, and activists say the IAA didn’t check each structure to see if this was the case before it was demolished.
Rapper, political activist and Lod resident Tamer Nafar calls the move “another blow to my Arab and Islamic heritage. Lod is made up of all kinds of people, a tapestry of colors. Rather than letting it be composed of all the colors, some of these colors are being erased.”
“This is part and parcel of the exclusion of Arabs from the public space,” says Lod activist Ghassan Munair. “We’re in favor of development, but it’s known that Lod is built atop the city underneath. If they would have found the tailbone of a Jewish dog, they would have halted everything,” he adds. “The city is counting on the people here not protesting because they’re too busy just trying to put food on the table.”
Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, central district archaeologist in the Antiquities Authority, refutes these claims. “We carried out our examinations and discovered the remnants of walls,” he says. “The excavation was started and the picture that emerged was that at the depths the city wished to dig, the remnants are from a later time – from the British Mandate period. It was clear to us that everything we saw down to a depth of 1.5 meters [5 feet], the depth the city requested, did not fall under the definition of an antiquity.”
Ben-Ami says that all of the work done following the exploratory and salvaging excavations was carried out under the close supervision of the IAA. “Lod is very dear to us, and we are working on a major educational project there that gets students involved in digs. As far as the market goes, the arguments are more about heritage and less about archaeology, and this is something that should be resolved with dialogue between the parties,” he adds.
Lod Municipality said the works “received the approval of the Antiquities Authority and are being carried out under its close inspection.”
It added, “Last month, an archaeological dig was also done with financing by the Lod Municipality, and after examining the findings, the Antiquities Authority authorized the continuation of the work. In this case, the decision of the Antiquities Authority is unequivocal that there were no significant findings, and therefore the work at the site may continue as planned.
“It is important to point out that no intact or partially intact structures were found. There were only a few artifacts from which inferences could be made about structures that once existed there.
“The municipality values the preservation of Lod’s past, acts with sensitivity where this subject is concerned, and decided of its own accord to take a number of steps to enhance historical evidence from the Ottoman period. One of these is the city market project.
“At the same time, the municipality will preserve the Maqam, an Islamic building, in a way that highlights its beauty and restores the honor it deserves.”