Israel protests exclusion from int'l archeological conference in Ramallah

World Archeological Congress accused of allowing academic forum in Ramallah to be used for political propaganda.

The Israel Antiquities Authority condemned the World Archeological Congress on Wednesday for holding an international conference in Ramallah dedicated to "overcoming structural violence" and the negative impact of politics on archeology. In a fiercely worded letter to the congress's president, IAA deputy director Dr. Uzi Dahari accused the organization of excluding Israelis, not informing the IAA of the event in advance, and allowing an academic forum to be used for political propaganda against Israel. "We remind you that this is a conference organized by the World Archeological Congress, and not a Palestinian archeological organization," Dahari wrote. "This requires you to make it universal. The omission to include or invite Israeli speakers to address issues that directly affect their daily work shows that this conference is certainly not that." He continued, "We need not remind you that one of the principles governing the WAC is the promotion of dialogue between archeologists, but this conference is a monologue that fails to live up to these basic ideals." Dahari said the conference's program was full of condemnations of Israeli archeology, with "huge numbers of inaccuracies" and accusations of "insidious past-mastering" that made the conference into "little more than a political demonstration." He also condemned the congress for visiting the Temple Mount and City of David Archeological Park in Jerusalem on Wednesday without coordinating with the IAA, even though the cultural heritage of Jerusalem is under Israeli auspices according to international law. He said it was unethical and unprofessional to visit active archeological sites without informing the archeologists charged with the excavation. WAC president Claire Smith responded that Israeli archeologists had not been intentionally excluded from the conference and that it had been widely advertised. She said there had been a misperception that Israeli archeologists would not be permitted to go to Ramallah to attend the event, and that a videoconference to allow Israeli participation had been attempted, but had not succeeded. "The tours are being led by highly respected Palestinian and Israeli archeologists," she wrote to Dahari. "These tours are to public areas and do not include visiting active archeological excavations. They're timed so that delegates are free to gain additional knowledge through taking the normal paid tours. However, if you would like to send someone to provide an additional perspective, you would be welcome to do so." Smith said the decision to hold the conference in Ramallah stemmed from past problems with archeologists being refused visas to attend the WAC's events in Washington and because Palestinians had difficulties getting visas to many countries. She said she intended to host a follow-up conference in which both Israeli and Palestinian archeologists could participate. "Since it is difficult for Palestinian archeologists to interact with the international community, we decided to bring members of the international community to Palestinian archeologists," Smith said. Dr. Mahmoud Hawari, an Oxford University research associate who attended the conference, suggested that Israeli archeologists had been aware of the event but decided to boycott it and then complain about not being invited. Hawari was one of 20 WAC members who visited the City of David on a tour led by Dr. Raphael Greenberg, a senior archeology lecturer at Tel Aviv University, who is known to be a vocal critic of the site. On the tour, Greenberg cast doubt on prevailing theories of the site's historical significance and accused the site's trustees of elevating politics and the desire for profit over archeological veracity. Greenberg said that "archeology should never be linked to biblical texts" and that the claim that the site contained the former palace of King David was based on a desire to lure paying tourists, rather than on firm archeological proof. He told The Jerusalem Post that his purpose in the tour was not to expose visiting archeologists to a balanced perspective of the park's archeology, but to expose them to his point of view. "I am not interested in giving them [tour members] a full picture," Greenberg said. "They are grown-up people, and they can get their information wherever they can find it. I am not a newspaper. I have my own beliefs about archeological ethics, about what has been going on here." Reacting to the IAA's protest about the conference, he said that "Israel should get accustomed to the fact that that they don't control everything, and the Antiquities Authority has no authority in the West Bank." City of David spokesman Doron Spielman said the WAC's visit had been intended to "use archaeology as a guise to enforce an extreme political agenda to weaken Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem." He condemned the organizers for rejecting open dialogue and academic discourse in favor of what he called "a political diatribe by politico-archeologists" unaffiliated with the finds at the site. "Choosing to hold the conference in Ramallah - the seat of the Palestinian Authority - is ironic, given that the Palestinian Authority-controlled Wakf carried out in 1999 what is likely the largest archeological devastation in recent history, when they bulldozed and dumped 13,000 tons of archeological earth from the Temple Mount," Spielman said. "The international archeological community should be as outraged as we are by this farce, which sullied the very name of archeology as an academic discipline, which the conference supposedly supports."