Professors' petition protests alleged politicization of archaeological work in East Jerusalem

Historians in the News

For nearly a decade, all archaeological work in the Wadi Hilwe area of Silwan in East Jerusalem—that is, the City of David, the core of ancient Jerusalem and one of the most sensitive archaeological sites in Israel—has been controlled by Elad, an organization of right-wing Israeli settlers. More precisely, the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority (INPA), which has legal responsibility for this area, has appointed Elad as its sub-contractor in Silwan; Elad, in turn, has commissioned the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to carry out excavations in this neighborhood. What is more, permission to dig in Silwan has been granted by an internal process within the IAA, distinct from the usual norms for large-scale excavation applied to other sites in Israel. What this means is that Elad decides everything of consequence relating to the Wadi Hilwe sites—including the decision to expand and extend the digging as it sees fit, without reference to the needs and rights of Silwan's Palestinian residents. There is no precedent in Israel for handing over responsibility for serious archaeological work to a militant political organization with its own clear (extremist) agenda.

Elad also runs a visitor's center which offers a highly one-sided, nationalist version of the history of this neighborhood. Visitors to the site receive, along with the entry ticket they purchase, a propaganda pamphlet embodying this distorted historical narrative. Lavishly funded by foreign donors, Elad is engaged in a relentless process of turning Silwan into an area of Jewish settlement, at the same time dispossessing many of the Palestinian residents.

Recently, the residents of Silwan have complained that ongoing archaeological work is undermining the foundations of their houses. A grass-roots protest in the neighborhood, including an appeal to the Israel Supreme Court, has met with violent suppression by the police, including the harassment and repeated arrests of the signatories to the appeal. On March 17, 2008, the Court issued a restraining order against Elad and temporarily halted further extension of the digging.

Archaeology is, or should be, a discipline untainted by narrow political or sectarian interests. In Silwan, sadly, archaeology—and the Israel Antiquities Authority—are being openly exploited for purely political purposes that include the removal of innocent civilians from their homes. We call upon the government of Israel, the Jerusalem Municipality, the INPA, the IAA, and all responsible members of Israel's academic community to put an end at once to this blatant perversion and dangerous politicization of an academic field of endeavor.

Professor Marshall Sahlins, University of Chicago
Professor Katheryn Linduff, University of Pittsburgh, Archaeology
Professor Hsu Cho-Yun, University of Pittsburgh
Professor Robert D. Drennan, University of Pittsburgh
Dr. William Honeychurch, Yale University, Archaeology
Professor Robert Schneider, Indiana. Editor, American History Review.
Professor Andras Hamori, Princeton
Professor Russell Tuttle, University of Chicago
Professor Carolyn Wright, Brown University
Professor David Bell, Johns Hopkins
Professor Tom Laqueur, University of California, Berkeley
Professor Carla Hesse, University of California, Berkeley
Professor Lorraine Daston, Max-Planck Institute, Berlin
Professor Dror Wahrman, Indiana University
Professor Nathaniel Tarn, Rutgers
Professor Steve Weizman, Indiana University
Professor Philip E. L. Smith, Archaeology, Université de Montreal
Professor Nerissa Russell, Cornell University
Professor Robert D. Drennar, University of Pittsburgh, Archaeology
Professor Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University
Professor Sheldon Pollock, Columbia University
Professor David Myers, UCLA
Professor Mark Cohen, Princeton
Professor Gil Eyal, Columbia
Dr. Aryeh Cohen, American Jewish University
Professor McGuire Gibson, University of Chicago
Professor Lawrence Kirmayer, McGill University
Professor Howard Spodek, Temple University
Professor Susan Neiman, Einstein Forum, Berlin
Professor Eugene Sheppard, Brandeis University
Professor Wendy Doniger, University of Chicago
Professor Idan Segev, Hebrew University
Eliot Weinberger, New York
Professor Gwen Bennett, Washington University
Professor Naomi Standen, Newcastle University
Professor Francois G. Richard, University of Chicago
Dr. Miriam Stark, University of Hawaii
Professor Carolyn Forche, Skidmore University
Professor Magnus Fiskesjö, Cornell University
Dr. David Gimbel, Archaeos
Dr. Marina Rustow, Emory University
Professor Joyce Flueckiger, Emory University
Professor Yaron Ezrahi, Hebrew University
Professor Adam Rubin, Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles
Professor Anne Monius, Harvard University
Professor Jonathan Malino, Guilford College
Professor Michael Dietler, University of Chicago
Professor Pierre Joris, State University of New York, Albany
Dr. David Baptiste-Chirot, Milwaukee
Professor Anne Waldman, Naropa University
Professor Avi Shlaim, Oxford
Professor Natalie Davis, Princeton
Professor Charles Malamoud, École Pratique des Hautes Études
Professor Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley
Professor David Shulman, Hebrew University
Dr. Neve Gordon, Ben Gurion University
Dr. Yigal Bronner, University of Chicago
Professor Philip L. Kohl, Wellesley College

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