The Politics of Archeology in Israel

The meaning of archeological finds in Israel is up for interpretation.

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Politics Past and Present

While the debate about the past rages, many archeologist are concerned about the impact of the archeological dig on the present. A group of progressive archeologists, Emek-Shaveh (Equal Valley), as well as other activist groups such as Ir Amim (City of Nations), criticize the archeologists of the Ir David Foundation for their right wing political agenda and for ignoring the needs of the local Palestinians who live in Silwan, above the excavation site.

Competition over land and history are loaded topics in East Jerusalem and Ir David dig is quickly becoming a tourist destination with a clear Jewish Nationalistic slant. Emek Shaveh runs alternative tours of the site in which they promote a sense of joint ownership over the finds and sensitivity to local inhabitants. Moreover, they choose not to engage in debates over the existence of King David and the dating of the newly found "palace." Yonatan Mizrachi, one of Emek Shaveh's archeologists says that he espouses a more "modest" methodology, which argues that the discovery of a building cannot prove or disprove the existence of a Biblical character. Archeological finds reveal the historical layers of a place – population, housing standards, and daily living - rather than preserve national narratives.

As right and left continue to accuse the other of being influenced by politics and belief, the hotly contested debates suggest that the promise of objectivity is a chimera in the desert. Numerous voices can be heard volleying over the fault lines in Israeli society--Jewish Palestinian, religious secular, right wing left wing--and all clamor for territory as the land is mined and carved and buried history meets present Israel.

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Alieza Salzberg

Alieza Salzberg is a graduate student at the Hebrew University where she studies Rabbinic Literature. She is a fellow at the Hartman Institute's Seder Nashim, Beit Midrash for Judaism and Gender. She lives, writes and studies in Jerusalem.