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Tel Aviv University to cooperate with settler group on East Jerusalem dig

Tel Aviv University’s spokesperson refuses to explain why its archaeologists will work with Elad, an organization notorious for its pursuit of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.

The City of David archaeological park, with Silwan in the background (photo: JC/Activestills.org)

Haaretz reported on Thursday that Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology plans to start digging in al-Bustan, located in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, in cooperation with Elad, a private right-wing organization notorious for using the “City of David” National Park to further expand Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.

While a Tel Aviv University spokesperson told me they will be “cooperating strictly with the Israel Antiquities Authority,” it is a well-known fact that any dig in Silwan (whether in City of David, known to Palestinians as Wadi Hilweh, or farther down the road in al-Bustan, where Jerusalem’s mayor plans to build another national park called the “King’s Garden,” at the expense of 22 Palestinian homes) means directly cooperating with Elad, which founded and operates the site – with the backing of the Antiquities Authority, the National Parks Authority and the government.

The Haaretz story also claims that the dig will be directly financed by Elad, with the Antiquities Authority merely serving as a channel to transmit funds. Moreover, both the paper and other organizations like Ir Amim (which focuses on the political conflict in East Jerusalem and has done extensive research on Elad and the City of David) have already established that Elad is responsible for settling over 500 Israeli Jews throughout Silwan – and Elad director David Be’eri has himself been caught on tape admitting the digs he oversees endanger Palestinian homes situated above.

Tel Aviv University (where I earned my BA) is the same university that allowed students to conduct a Nakba ceremony on campus last May, despite calls by the Education Ministry to cancel it, and the risk it took of being found in violation of the “Nakba Law.” While distancing itself from the event, the university took a brave stance in insisting on its students’ right to freedom of speech and protest.

In this case however, the university seems to have no problem at all aligning itself with a far-right organization that is not only creating facts on the ground in East Jerusalem that further entrench occupation, but is also using academics and archaeology to promote its own political agenda.

I asked Tel Aviv University spokesperson Orna Cohen whether the university considers Elad to be strictly an archaeological organization despite its well-known involvement in settlements and hostility to Palestinian residents, and she chose not to respond. I also asked her for comment on the sharp criticism that has been waged by archaeologists against the City of David’s archaeological integrity and accuracy  (including by Professor Raphael Greenberg, one of the university’s own professors!) and she chose not to comment on that either.

In fact she chose not to respond to any of my questions about Elad, or the university’s positions on settlements in East Jerusalem, and did not even mention Elad in any of her responses. Her only comments were that TAU is a public institution and as such, “It is natural for it to cooperate with other public bodies such as the Education Ministry, Defense Ministry and Antiquities Authority.”

After receiving these troubling answers (by email), I called her and told her I was disappointed that she didn’t actually respond to most of my questions, and asked if she would reconsider. I said that not addressing the issue makes the university look even worse. She told me she would think about it and get back to me, but when she did, she informed me it was decided that the answers she provided are sufficient.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Ken Kelso

      This is not good news for the Palestinians who are trying to deny all Jewish history in Jerusalem and the Arabs attemps to turn the Wailing Wall into an Arab neighborhood.

      http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=5490
      PA TV: Western Wall area to be turned into Arab housing neighborhood.
      Palestinian Authority TV:
      Western Wall area to be turned into Arab housing neighborhood -Jewish presence in Jerusalem will be erased from history.
      Aug. 17, 2011

      http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=80382
      Ahmed Qurei says Israel has no history in Jerusalem. Jewish Temples never existed, and Israel has been working to “invent” a Jewish connection to Jerusalem

      http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/134228
      PA Historian & Official Deny Israel’s History in Land of Israel
      An Arab PA historian and a senior PLO official have denied that the Jewish nation has any historical connection to the Land of Israel.
      Yoni Kempinski
      11/4/2009

      Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      Elad is “NOTORIOUS” for its pursuit of settlement in (Jewish) east Jerusalem? Really? The word “notorious” is usually used in the context of “Al Capone is notorious for being the head of the mafia in Chicago”.
      Jews living in any part of Jerusalme or any part of Eretz Israel for that matter, NOT a crime. If some “progressive” thinks it is, then one would have to add “Tel Aviv University is NOTORIOUS for settling in the former Arab village of Sheikh Munis”.
      Enough of this “progressive” hypocrisy!

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Elad IS pretty notorious, among other things for digging under and undermining houses that people still live in without regard for their safety because in the eyes of the firm’s manager David Be’eri, those inhabitants are Untermenschlich. The refined gentleman in question is notorious too for having driven into their children, who have no space to play and were throwing stones as he passed http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=190682
        Elad, apart from being known for turfing Palestinians out of their homes with no compensation and installing violent settlers in them, has some notoriously wealthy American friends and associates including magnate Irving Moskowitz, whose son-in-law Aryeh King is a real dab hand at this game and all sorts of others.
        http://stopmoskowitz.org/article0011.shtml

        What’s so bad with notorious?

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          These “childre” who were throwing stones AND LARGE BLOCKS at him and which smashed his windows, were doing this with camera crews waiting with them to film the action when they waylayed him. They were trying to kill him. Anyone would have done the same thing. This propagandistic lie which claims to show settlers as “indifferent to the welfare of children” was discredited long ago.

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            Are their children allowed to play in the playgrounds that settler children play in or are those playgrounds under lock and key and when open protected by security? Where are they supposed to go? Come on XYZ, you can do better than that.

            As for Be’eri, Perhaps he had the option of turning back? Maybe he wanted to impress those photographers?

            Reply to Comment
          • sh

            XYZ, if you were in Europe or the US and kids were throwing stones at your car would you drive into them and run them over or would you try to get away from them and call the police?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Ed Frias

      XYZ, Mairav Zonszein is upset the Arabs can no longer ethnic cleanse all the Jews from Israeli East Jerusalem as the Arabs did from 48 to 67.
      Mairav Zonszein was happy from 48 to 67 when the Arabs barred all Jews from East Jerusalem,
      burned 58 temples and urinated all the time on the Wailing Wall.

      My favorite article on Jerusalem is this.
      http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/126403#.UImI12_7KSo
      Israeli on Arab TV: J’lem Was Ours When Moslems Worshipped Idols
      A Bar Ilan Univ. researcher told Al Jazeera, “Jews were in Jerusalem while Muslims were drinking wine; we don’t need your permission to build.

      Reply to Comment
    4. May

      Excellent reporting.
      It is unacceptable that TAU is involved in any way with such an organization and worse that TAU “hides” behind the excuse of “cooperation with other public bodies such as the Education Ministry, Defense Ministry and Antiquities Authority.” and not mention ELAD. Shameful!

      Reply to Comment
    5. Borukh

      Most of these comments are themselves as disgrceful as are the actions and non-responsiveness of TAU. Israel’s unilateral annexation of east Jerusalem is not recignized by any country in the world. Even Canada’s official position on this action by Israel soon after 1967 is completely opposed – despite our PM’s very pro-Israel stance. See “Canadian Policy on Key Issues in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” on the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site: . It says re the Status of Jerusalem: “Canada considers the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Canada does not recognize Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem.” Yes, Elad is “notorious” in how it has been dealing with the Arab residents of Silwan and the Antiquities Authority has been completely tainted in the eyes of the international archaeological community because of their complicity. So this business of TAU and what it is doing will ALSO taint their Dept. of Archaeology if they go ahead with this craziness. Do not think for a moment that it won’t be recognized by archaeologists around the world for what it is!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Philos

      Why? Probably because they don’t want to suffer the same fate as BGU. After all TAU has been enemy number two as far as Im Tirzu and other proto-fascist groups are concerned.

      Reply to Comment
    7. TAU’s mission precludes a direct position on settlements in East Jerusalem; that is expected. Academics is a business in grant, paper, and book production; it is quite often a cut throat busienss. So the question to ask is where is the money coming from to support the dig and later analysis–including personel money. This the university should not be able to hide. It it is coming from Elad, the next question, which would have to be sniffed out, is whether any TAU professors refused the gig before another at the university took it. Then there is the obviously likely possibility that another university prof(s) would take the assignment. While a professor can refuse the offer (and perhaps cause problems for herself in the department), professors need to eat data to make words to be important. That is all that’s happened here, an absent a publically defined harm in the dig itself (which is not forthcoming, oh fellow leftist), the present outcome is not surprising at all. It’s about academic food, not Palestinian repression. The whole point of a repressive system is to make each litte bit a necessary morsel for some life. The is real archeological evidence there, and someone will take it.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Kathleen Wagar

      When are Muslims going to realize that the reason for all the Jewish archaeology finds is because this was where Jews have lived for thousands of years? There are no Muslim artifacts here, and if there were, they would date from fairly recent times. This should not be a political issue. Jews and Christians want to find and study what’s there.

      Reply to Comment

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