Archaeology’s Political Context
The May 6 op-ed by Israel Finkelstein, “In the Eye of Jerusalem’s Archaeological Storm” underscores some problems and misconceptions surrounding the “City of David” in the Palestinian village of Silwan.
Much of the site lies beneath village houses. It is this intermingling of ancient remains and modern homes that makes archaeology in the City of David/Silwan so sensitive, and it is what allows the right-wing Elad settler group to pursue a two-pronged policy of both settlement on the site and excavation of its remains. Archaeology thus significantly affects the lives of people in the present: to imagine archaeology as being “beyond politics” constitutes mere denial.
Finkelstein rightly opposes the management of a national monument by a private foundation, arguing that the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority, respectively, should manage and excavate the site. This is, itself, a political statement, as Israeli sovereignty in Silwan is disputed, and with it the legitimacy of unilateral activity carried out under Israeli law. Moreover, as places like Silwan and the Old City become increasingly identified with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the harder it is to separate archaeological from political activity.
Jerusalem’s archaeology is a part of world heritage, as potentially meaningful to the local inhabitants as it is to Israelis and to the world. Jerusalem has never ceased being inhabited, and every phase in its existence is packed with significance. In the long run, the future of the archaeological remains in the historic basin will not be served by exclusive Israeli control, but through interaction between archaeologists and local people, professional international cooperation, and a broad view of Jerusalem as significant to many nations and faiths