A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The World Archaeological Congress (WAC) has condemned the destruction of heritage sites in Palestine by Israeli forces. "Of particular concern," notes the scholarly organization's January press release, "is the destruction of heritage sites by the wall being constructed by the Israeli government." Israel justifies the wall as a necessary security barrier.
This past fall, bulldozers preparing ground for a section of the wall running through Abu Dis, East Jerusalem, damaged remains of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine monastery. Construction was halted, and Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists conducted an excavation, recovering a mosaic and other artifacts. An IAA official quoted in the press blamed the army for proceeding without a go-ahead from IAA.
Currently threatened by construction of the barrier is the West Bank site of Gibeon (see "Hope Amid the Carnage," July/August 2002). Mentioned several times in the Bible, Gibeon is the focus of an Israeli-American-Palestinian initiative to protect heritage in the area. (The project is funded by a $400,000 U.S. State Department grant.) Unless plans for it are altered, the wall will certainly damage the site. Jobs created by restoring and protecting Gibeon are important to the nearby village of Al-Jib, says Palestinian archaeologist Adel Yahyeh. He is afraid that if the wall separates the village from the site, Al-Jib will become little more than a refugee camp. According to Yahyeh, the IAA is aware of the threat and sympathetic but may not have jurisdiction.
WAC has called upon Israel to abide by UNESCO conventions intended to protect cultural heritage. "It's a no-brainer to assume that a large-scale regional project in this part of the world will destroy a lot of sites," says Catholic University's Sandra Scham, a key player in the joint initiative and a contributing editor to ARCHAEOLOGY.