Thursday, December 09, 2010

Pillaging the Truth (Israel Finkelstein)

Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, who is bitterly opposed to the privately-funded City of David archaeological park in Jerusalem and far from a religious ideologue, responds point by point to a recent  biased Al Jazeera piece alleging Israeli looting of "Palestinian" archaeological treasures.

Let me start out by stating the very obvious: This is a piece of political propaganda, aimed – as the bon ton goes today – at de-legitimizing Israel. The viewer must keep sight of the fact that the film was produced by the Arab TV network al-Jazeera. So rather than give a general statement, I wish to demonstrate – point by point – why this is a worthless film, ridden with manipulations, political propaganda, incorrect facts and even lies.

1. The creators of the film has no intention of being balanced. The Israeli side is represented only by anti-establishment archaeologists. Not a single scholar with an opposing point of view was interviewed. And while the Palestinian Director of Antiquities speaks in the film, not a single Israeli official (e.g., from the Israel Antiquities Authority) appears. This should come as no surprise; it fits the notion of pluralism and free speech in the Arab World.

2. At times the film, intentionally or unintentionally, resorts to anti-Semitic stereotypes, in which Israelis are shown either as religious settlers or as soldiers carrying guns. Then comes the cliché: The Palestinians are the true people of the land: peace loving farmers riding donkeys in beautiful fields with romantic flute music playing in the background.

3. Let the truth be known: Most of the looting in the West Bank (as well as in Israel!) has been carried out by Palestinians. In addition, the viewer should remember that since the 1993 Oslo agreement about 50% of the West Bank has been administered by the Palestinian Authority. If looting there continues, it is being done under Palestinian rule.

4. From the point of view of international law, the West Bank and Gaza are contested territories. To differ from Israel’s border with Egypt, which is a border between states, the 1967 border with Jordan was a result of war. Jordan tried to annex the West Bank with a motion in the UN in the 1950s and failed. The verdict regarding sites in these territories and antiquities found in them must therefore wait for a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. These issues are on the negotiating table. Meanwhile, artifacts from excavations in the West Bank are kept separately from artifacts from Israeli sites. Archaeology in the 50% of the West Bank which is under Israeli administration is administered according to the Jordanian law which prevailed before 1967.

...6. The Dead Sea Scrolls on display in the Israel Museum were bought in the US in the 1940s and 1950s. As such, they are not contested, not even by the Palestinians and Jordanians. The other scrolls were excavated in the 1950s, under Jordanian rule, and were then taken to Jerusalem. Israel had nothing to do with it. They too will be on the negotiating table.

7. Moshe Dayan’s looting of antiquities was scandalous and the sale of the looted antiquities to the Israel Museum a shame. For the record it should be mentioned that Dayan looted sites not only in the Palestinian territories but within the borders of the State of Israel as well. In fact, in 1968 he almost died in an accident in an illicit excavation on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

...9. Also for the record, it must be said that the most devastating damage inflicted on antiquities in Jerusalem was the bulldozing of (mainly Islamic) antiquities from the Temple Mount by the Waqf – the Islamic religious authority which controls the Temple Mount. This was done in the course of constructing a mosque under the el-Aqsa mosque. Work there was carried out savagely, with no inspection by archaeologists.
Read the whole thing.

(h/t Joel B)