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Books: West Bank Thriller Volume 55 Number 1, January/February 2002
by Sandra Scham

[image] Palestine Twilight: The Murder of Dr. Albert Glock and the Archaeology of the Holy Land by Edward Fox [LARGER IMAGE]

At midday in a village set in the hills of Palestine, an American archaeologist who has spent his life excavating the sites of the Bible walks up to the house of a Palestinian friend. It is 1992, and this unstable region is embroiled in a particularly violent phase of one of the world's more enduring conflicts. As he takes his customary route to the door, he is pursued by a man whose face is obscured by a kaffiyah--a symbolic item of apparel for Palestinian youth. Seconds later the archaeologist is dead, killed by three shots from the gun of this lone assassin, who escapes and is never to be caught and charged with the crime.

The murder of Albert Glock--American citizen, observant Christian, West Bank resident, and director of the Archaeology Institute of Palestine's major university, Bir Zeit--has all of the aspects of a traditional spy thriller, with a touch of Indiana Jones thrown in. Thus, one of the first questions raised by Edward Fox's book, Palestine Twilight: The Murder of Dr. Albert Glock and the Archaeology of the Holy Land (London: HarperCollins, 2001; 15.99), is why it has taken ten years for anyone to explore this event in print. Fox notes that he learned of the murder more than two years after it took place, from a footnote in a posthumously published article by Glock in the Journal of Palestine Studies. It took him another three years to begin to unravel this intriguing mystery, and Palestine Twilight is the result.

Fox was not content to simply peruse newspaper accounts and interview friends and family. Bewildered by Palestinian accusations that Glock was killed by an Israeli hit squad, and Israeli accusations that Glock was killed by a Palestinian because of a dispute at the university or a conflict involving "family honor," he became deeply involved in the politics of the region, speaking to Hamas cell leaders, public officials, former students, and acknowledged Glock adversaries.

At the start of his investigation, a Palestinian journalist tells him to "look to the archaeology," and that is what he does for a good part of the book. His recitation of the history of archaeology in the "Holy Land" may be somewhat tedious but, for the lay reader, it provides a good introduction to Glock's career and life. Despite this overview and a useful glossary of archaeological terms, however, this book contains little that reveals the real nature of Palestinian archaeology and why Glock, long considered the primary mentor to a whole generation of archaeological professionals, had little impact on their work.

Neither does it answer the question of who killed Glock--though this may be asking too much given the circumstances. Certainly, Fox has done a remarkable job of sifting through records and pointedly questioning informants from every conceivable background to investigate this issue. The book reaches some tentative conclusions--but it would not do it or the author justice to reveal them here. Suffice it to say that none of the initial explanations given for the murder proved valid, and the most compelling one will not satisfy either side. As Fox himself concludes, "The problem with the Glock case was the same problem that thoroughly suffused the archaeology of Palestine: people tended to see what they wanted to see in the facts available, depending on where they stood, that is, which of the conflicting cultures in Palestine they happened to belong to." That, in itself, may say a great deal about archaeology in the region, after all.

Sandra Scham is at the University of Maryland

* Editor's Note: This book has just been published in the United States as Sacred Geography: A Tale of Murder and Archaeology in the Holy Land (New York: Metropolitan/Holt, 2001; $26).

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© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America