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Occupation magazine - Commentary

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Week 2258 of Occupation
Week 2258 of Occupation
September 6-12, 2010
Daniel Breslau

Colonizing the (distant) past

On 1 September, attendees at an open-air conference on biblical archaeology found the polite academic proceedings interrupted by a young woman`s voice through a megaphone from the hillside overlooking their meeting:
`Hello to everyone. You have not arrived at an academic conference today. You have arrived at a conference of racism, a conference of hate, a conference of misanthropes, a conference that is trying to remove Palestinians from their homes for the sake of the Jewish master race. We`ve heard about things like this in other places and times in history. This is not an academic conference. This is a racist conference of the extreme right. Everyone here today has arrived, perhaps by mistake, at a conference of the extreme right. Don`t continue to take part in this conference. This is not a conference of people who support human rights. This is a conference of racists. It is a conference of people that want to push the Palestinian population out of Silwan!`

The so-called `City of David` in the in the East Jerusalem village of Silwan, is being excavated by a partnership of religious settlers and willing archaeologists. To manage the national park, the Israeli government has contracted with a right-wing settler organization, Elad. The group is committed to illegal Jewish settlement of the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, with the political goal of breaking up the contiguity of Palestinian districts and blocking any reversal of Israel`s occupation of the area.

The archaeologists provide cover for the project of Jewish settlement in the area by providing a pretext for confiscating Palestinian land. The excavations also serve the ideological purpose of strengthening Jewish claims to the city, framing the settlement project as a return rather than a hostile takeover. A number of Israeli archaeologists have been happy to link their research to Elad`s goals.

A cascade of dubious archaeological claims has come from the work of those like Eilat Mazar, who is funded by the right wing donors such as the neoconservative American financier Roger Hertog . Using a method that has been largely rejected by archaeologists, Mazar searches underground for finds that can corroborate biblical texts. This often involves highly speculative and creative dating of objects in order to fit them to the scriptures. Thus a structure that is likely to be of Hellenistic provenance, nor earlier than the 4th century B.C.E., is back-dated to 1000 B.C.E. and prematurely identified as `King David`s Palace.` The date of a wall that has been thought to be a Hasmonean fortification (no earlier than 147 B.C.E.) is revised by 300 years in order to identify it as the famous Nehemiah`s Wall.

While Mazar`s dating techniques are highly controversial among academic archaeologists, her discoveries are immediately and uncritically embraced by the amateurs who are more interested in recruiting the past for the cause of settlement. In the hands of Elad, the controversial findings become absolute certainties, testifying to the historical depth of Jewish presence, the invisibility of the nearly two thousand years since. Tourists guided through Elad`s Disney-like theme park are told that they have returned to retrace the footsteps of David and Solomon.

While using archaeology to advance and justify colonization, Elad has worked to erase 1400 years of continuous Muslim presence. In 2008, a mass burial from the 8th or 9th century C.E. was obliterated by Elad, and the remains of at least 100 individuals were secretly spirited away and disposed of.
The work of Elad systematically enlists the dead and their buildings into todays ultranationalist settler movement. Those whose remains might provide a different interpretation of the history of human settlement in Wadi Hilweh are silenced. It is not the protestors that have politicized archaeology.
For more information on archaeology in the service of Judaizing Jerusalem, and the ongoing struggle against it:

Keep the heat on

On Sunday, 12 September, Israel hinted at its expected political (and economic) payoffs from the reinitiated talks. The Foreign Ministry has appealed to leadership of the European Union, to proceed with upgrading its relations with Israel. The EU had been considering upgrading Israel to the status of senior trade partner, but froze that process after the Netanyahu government refused to continue with talks where its predecessor had left off.

Anyone speculating about the real aims of the Israeli government in the new round of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, should recognize that the starting position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not reflect well on his intentions. Rather than building on the past seventeen years of negotiations, and the understandings achieved between successive leaderships on both sides, Netanyahu has insisted on starting over. Even if the talks miraculously achieve their stated goal of an agreement in one year, any such agreement will take additional years to implement. And those years will provide unlimited opportunities for foot dragging, provocation, and false pretexts.
During the negotiations and the unlikely implementation period, those protesting Israels occupation, calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, will be accused of undermining the peace process. But Israel has still done nothing to show its willingness to end the occupation and implement a just resolution. All of these modalities of pressure must be kept up, now more than ever.

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