Since the occupation of the West Bank, Israeli archaeology has been vigorously at work there. Salvage digs have been carried out by the archaeology officer of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank. The Israel Antiquities Authority has conducted surveys. Archaeological parks have been established by organizations with settler ties, and American evangelical groups have conducted excavation missions there.
Archaeology has become a tool to push Palestinians off land and establish the narrative about the Jewish right to the land. But most researchers at Israeli universities have been leery of dealing directly with excavations in the territories, as such digs are still considered by most of the academic world to be illegal activity in occupied territory. A researcher seeking to publish an article in an international journal, or to receive funding from a non-Israeli entity for a project in the West Bank, would almost certainly be turned down.
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Recently Bar-Ilan University began a research dig at Khirbet Tibnah, adjacent to the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh (Haaretz, Aug. 11). The site is on land claimed by Palestinian residents of nearby villages, but no less serious is that a scientific excavation in the West Bank by an Israeli university (unlike a salvage dig purportedly carried out for development purposes) is another act of normalizing the abnormal.
One should restate the obvious: Israeli military control over territory beyond the country’s borders and over millions of people who are not its citizens is illegitimate. Researchers who are digging there as if it were sovereign Israeli territory are contributing to occupation denial. The international organizations and universities around the world are right to reject such attempts. And Bar-Ilan is not alone.
For years, Tel Aviv University has cooperated with the Elad nonprofit in excavations at the City of David in East Jerusalem. Hebrew University has carried out digs at Herodium in the West Bank. The University of Haifa has conducted a huge archaeological survey in the West Bank, and Ariel University, which itself is in occupied territory, carries out work in the West Bank.
There’s no disagreement that the West Bank is one of the richest and most interesting areas from an archaeological perspective, but as long as the occupation continues, researchers and university heads should refrain from conducting excavations in those areas without Palestinian consent and in violation of international law and international conventions.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.