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Because BDS, Israeli archeologists want West Bank work kept secret

An Israeli court rejects a freedom of information request for the names of archeologists digging, under IDF license, in the occupied territories, and where Israel is storing the antiquities they uncover. The reason: so they don’t face academic boycott.

The visitor’s center at the West Bank archeological site of Shiloh, in the Israeli settlement of Shilo. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

The visitor’s center at the West Bank archeological site of Shiloh, in the Israeli settlement of Shilo. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday refused to reveal the names of archeologists performing digs at antiquities sites in the occupied West Bank, as is the practice of the Israel Antiquities Authority inside the Green Line. The reason: the archeologists’ (and the State’s) fear of academic boycotts, and the difficulties it would pose for ongoing (Israeli) archeological projects in the occupied territories.

The decision was issued in response to a petition filed by human rights organization Yesh Din and archeology NGO Emek Shaveh, against the Israeli military government in the West Bank (the Civil Administration) and the staff officer of its Archeology Department, who are responsible for issuing licenses for archeological excavations in the occupied territory. The petitioners sought information that the military refused to provide as part of a freedom of information request, mainly the names of the archeologists, and where Israeli authorities store antiquities they uncover in the West Bank.

The main thrust of District Court Judge Yigal Marzel’s decision dealt with releasing the names of the archeologists. Judge Marzel recognized the importance of publishing their names, as is customary inside Israel, partly for reasons of transparency, but also because the findings of the excavations are often published academically — which requires publishing one’s name.

However, the State managed to convince Judge Marzel that the archeologists, who testified in an ex parte hearing (without the presence of the petitioners), that publishing their names would pose a real threat of academic boycott due to their work in the occupied territories under a license issued by the military regime.

The State claimed there is also a risk that the archeologists would be unable to publish in international academic journals, and that foreign academics would refuse to work with them in future research or refuse to invite them to conferences, thereby harming their professional careers.

Therefore, the court ruled, the personal risk to the archeologists and to the future of their research is enough to justify not publishing their names. Some of the archeologists did agree to their names being given to the petitioners, and they were.

The court also rejected the petitioners’ request for information about where Israel stores the uncovered antiquities. The State argued, again behind closed doors and without the presence of the petitioners, that the publication of that information would risk the theft of the antiquities, and that it could harm peace talks with the Palestinians.

The court did, however, grant some of the more marginal requests about details of excavations that have been completed. (The full decision can be read here, in Hebrew.)

In response to the decision, Yesh Din said in a statement:

The Israeli authorities’ fear of the boycott against archeologists in the West Bank and of harm to [the state’s] international relations […] is an admission that the state knows its hands are not clean, and must therefore conceal its archeological activities in the West Bank. It is unfortunate that the court chose to lend its hand to a policy of concealment and darkness, which denies the public its right to know and the ability to oversee and criticize.”

Emek Shaveh also responded:

More than anything, the court’s decision shows that archeology in the West Bank is treated as a military activity and not as academic research. The foundation of research is revealing the researcher’s name and publishing their findings. If it is permissible to conceal the names of archeologists in the West Bank and the public has no way of knowing where the archeological findings are located, the conclusion is that archeology in the West Bank is fundamentally political.

This article was first published in Hebrew in Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. R5

      Considering that Southern Syrians / Arabs (“Palestinians” if you prefer the British colonial terminology) build concrete housing directly on top of ancient Jewish tombs in Jerusalem proper, its hard to see why any archaeologist would want to boycott Israelis who are performing proper excavations. But now that Western universities are completely losing their minds over Israel and in general, its not surprising that certain hypocrites would prioritize the destruction of Jewish sovereignty on planet Earth over the integrity of their own academic discipline.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Ordinarily an academy (but not an economy) should be exempt from boycott. But the Israeli university system is not a normal one and these are not normal times for the state of Israel in its distress. The Israeli academic-industrial complex aids and abets the occupation in a thousand direct and indirect ways, and it participates in the system of censorship. It is part of the occupation. It does not stand over and against or even beside the occupation. The Dean of the Law Faculty at Bar-Ilan threatened a professor with disciplinary action merely for sending his students an email about the rescheduling of exams that opened with an expression of sympathy for all victims of the Israel-Gaza war. This was unacceptable speech—needed censorship—yet the very same Dean will remonstrate against an academic boycott? The president of Ben-Gurion University cancelled a decision to award a prize to Breaking the Silence, saying the group is beyond “the national consensus.” This makes the University an instrument of state censorship and Orwellian thought control and an abettor of the occupation. This same university president will get on her high horse and lecture us about academic freedom and the awfulness of academic boycott? No, the hypocrisy is too much. Too many Israeli academics busy themselves with advancing their careers while profiting from or winking at or turning a blind eye to the occupation. So spare us sanctimonious lectures about the inviolability of the university.

      Reply to Comment
      • R5

        Israel’s academy is better than “normal” on humanitarian grounds. US, UK & Canadian universities have invented the worst weapons of mass destruction and torture techniques known to modern man, and continue to conduct military research for the American empire. Oh wait, this is about Jews, sorry forgot that for a minute. And please now explain why there isn’t a double standard because the right-thinking progressives of the world ‘have to start somewhere’….ready, go!

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    3. Ben

      American universities should be boycotted because some physicists at Los Alamos in the 1940s produced the first nuclear weapons? What specific torture techniques did American Universities invent? How would a boycott of American universities contribute to a nuclear free world and to the eradication of torture? I’m open to possibilities. But you are posturing at boycotts driven by a blanket and uncritical anti-Americanism. There is no way that boycotts of Israel would ever have gathered any steam had they been about blanket and uncritical anti-Israeli-ism such as a vague boycott because Israel, living in peace side by side with a Palestinian state, has a weapons export industry and supplies African dictators and warlords and once supplied South Africa during Apartheid. No one would ever have gotten a boycott movement off the ground singling out Israel for this. But you are not being honest if you say that the British could have continued to occupy India, or the French Algeria or Indochina, in 2016, and not been subject to boycotts. No way. Boycotts in general and of universities in particular won’ t end the occupation but may bring that day closer.

      http://972mag.com/bdss-jewish-roots-a-lesson-for-hillel/89209/

      “Given my pathway into Judaism – the call of Deuteronomy to pursue justice – I find myself at a loss when I listen to the Jewish communal rhetoric surrounding the BDS movement. I understand the fears. Having spent years studying the Holocaust, the rise of Zionism, and generational trauma, the temptation to hear “boycott Israel” as “boycott Jews” is not lost on me.
      It is important for us to distinguish these two terms, though. This is not a Nazi call to boycott Jewish businesses in Germany. This is a call of a people who are living under a violent occupation, a people who are stateless and living in displacement. Their call is to boycott the government that is violently perpetuating statelessness upon them. If any people can empathize with the pathos of statelessness, it is the Jews.
      In all other contexts, the Jewish people have demonstrated that we understand boycotts, divestments, and sanctions to be effective, non-violent tools for political change. Yet in the face of the BDS movement, we call it ineffective, illegitimate, and even violent.”

      Reply to Comment
      • R5

        So you’re just completely ignorant about military research at US universities, got it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          If you know something specific and compelling–as opposed to innuendo and hinting around–and want to apprise us and organize a boycott of U.S. universities around a specific and realistic goal to be accomplished on that basis (not just “The USA does some bad things, lets organize a boycott of their universities”) I am all ears. If the British re-occupy India I’ll be the first to boycott Oxford and Cambridge.

          Reply to Comment