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Using archeology in the service of nationalism

The inauguration of a supposed ancient Jewish ‘Pilgrimage Road’ by Ambassador David Friedman and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt is a reminder that archeology is never as neutral as some would like to believe.

By Chemi Shiff and Yonathan Mizrachi

Archaeologists digging at a digging site of the remains of a citadel used by the Greeks more then 2,000 years ago to control the Temple Mount at the City of David near Jerusalem Old City on November 3, 2015, According to the Israeli Antiquities Authority the site was found under a parking lot a few years ago also know as Givati Parking Lot. (photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Archaeologists dig at a site of the remains of a citadel used by the Greeks more then 2,000 years ago, City of David archeological park, Silwan, East Jerusalem. November 3, 2015. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

We tend to think of archeology as a neutral discipline. Archeologists dig up artifacts, date them, and try to build a timeline to better understand the history of a particular place or people.

Last week’s inauguration of Jerusalem’s “Pilgrimage Road” by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and White House envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt is a reminder that archeology is never as neutral as some would like to believe. According to archaeologists, the route was taken by Jewish pilgrims as they ascended to the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago.

For Palestinians, the tunnel lies directly below the neighborhood of Silwan, long coveted by Israeli settlers who are actively working to Judaize the area.

When it comes to archeology in Jerusalem, it seems everyone prefers to overlook the elephant in the room: how can any archaeological site, especially one with so many layers of history, be held up as proof of one ethno-national group’s exclusive claims?

Doron Spielman, vice president of the settlement organization Elad, which funded the excavations and will manage its archaeological site, told Jerusalem Post that “this place is the heart of the Jewish people and is like the blood that courses through our veins.” Commenting on the importance of the finds, Greenblatt stressed that “archaeology doesn’t shape historic landscape,” but rather is focused on the “excavation… and analysis of artifacts/physical remains.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left) with White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt (center) and Senator Lindsey Graham seen during the opening ceremony of an the Pilgrimage Road at the City of David archaeological site in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, June 30, 2019. (Flash90)

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left) with White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt (center) and Senator Lindsey Graham seen during the opening ceremony of an the Pilgrimage Road at the City of David archaeological site in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, June 30, 2019. (Flash90)

Greenblatt’s sentiment transcends political differences between left and right. After all, archaeology has long been used by many societies to cement their ideologies as an inseparable part of the landscape. This, of course, is not to say that archaeology cannot be used to discern between different cultures. Yet, in most sites that have been inhabited by countless cultures over the centuries — and especially in multi-layered places such as Jerusalem —  the archaeological record usually reveals a story of complex relations between the various cultures that resided in any specific area.

While there is no question that Jews lived in the area surrounding the Pilgrimage Road in numerous periods, excavations have revealed that the area had been continuously inhabited for thousands of years before and after the Roman Period (referred to in Israel as the Second Temple Period), during which the route was first built.

Moreover, while representatives of Elad are confident that this road was taken by pilgrims on the way to the Second Temple, many archaeologists are not. The available evidence calls into question Jewish exclusivity over the site. Yet, to date, no report on the data accumulated from the excavation has been published. Without this data, any interpretation of the site’s history must be viewed as conjecture rather than fact.



Of course, the non-Jewish part of the story has yet to be told. When walking through the City of David archaeological site, one will learn mainly about its Jewish heritage. One must wonder about the fact that the Pilgrimage Road was excavated as a horizontal tunnel, a highly-contested archaeological method of excavation, preventing the ability to differentiate between the strata at the site.

Moreover, the tunnels allow visitors to walk through the village of Silwan without once seeing any Palestinians or coming to terms with the political implications of Elad’s archaeological enterprise on Jerusalem. Thus, excavations in the tunnel may be seen as yet another step in the appropriation of what Friedman and Greenblatt refer to as the “truth” of Silwan’s history, as the excavation itself – and not only the interpretation of the dig – ignores and destroys the layers below and above this route.

When asked about the importance of the Pilgrimage Road, Friedman claimed that it “brings truth and science to a debate that has been marred for too long by myths and deceptions,” explaining that the findings “bring an end to the baseless efforts to deny the historical fact of Jerusalem’s ancient connection to the Jewish people.” Friedman and Greenblatt added that any viable peace resolution with the Palestinians must be based on “the truth.”

Peace Now activists protest outside the opening of an ancient road at the City of David archaeological site in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, June 30, 2019. (Flash90)

Peace Now activists protest outside the opening of an ancient road at the City of David archaeological site in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, June 30, 2019. (Flash90)

However, like so many before them, it seems that the quest for the truth through archaeology manifests in justifications for nationalist agendas rather than attempts to build bridges between people.

In their quest for a convenient truth, nothing is easier for Friedman and Greenblatt than to overlook the complex historical story of Silwan, the Pilgrimage Road, and the violence this area has suffered due to both Israelis and Palestinians using archaeology as a zero-sum game. Instead of monopolizing a single nationalist narrative, perhaps it would be better for leaders on all sides to create an environment that is inclusive of the many narratives the landscape holds.

Chemi Shiff and Yonathan Mizrachi are members of Emek Shaveh. An Israeli NGO that working to protect ancient sites as public assets that belong to members of all communities, faiths and peoples.

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    1. Firentis

      Yes, while Emek Shaveh is an organization using archeology in the service of the European Union and its anti-Israel activism. Very noble traitors indeed.

      Donations in 2018 to Emek Shaveh:
      EU – $888K
      Switzerland – $389K
      France – $69K

      Reply to Comment
    2. Reality Check

      Here I fixed it for you: Emek Shaveh an Israeli fronted NGO that is working to supposedly protect ancient sites as supposed public assets while actually acting on behalf of foreign entities wishing to deny Jewish history and deprive Jews of their rights.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I wouldn’t hire you to fix a flat tire never mind “fix” Jerusalem’s complex heritage and Emek Shaveh’s true aims.

        Opposing the ludicrous political and pseudo-scientific farce surrounding this tunnel, complete with Friedman and Greenblatt’s shameless subterranean hammer banging antics, can by no stretch be truthfully called “anti-Israel. ”

        For Firentis/Reality Check, one is
        “anti-Israel” and against “Jew’s rights,” and a “traitor,” no less, if one simply refuses to overlook the complex historical story of Silwan, the Pilgrimage Road, and the violence this area has suffered due to both Israelis and Palestinians using archaeology as a zero-sum game and if one refuses to monopolize a single nationalist narrative.

        Anyone who thinks Elad of all outfits can be relied upon to carry out scientific, objective, competent archaeology in Silwan, and to truthfully report on it, is the biggest freier ever born.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Tomas

      This article belongs in your garbage as well as your agenda

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      I hope the archaelogical digs in Jerusalem will uncover the:
      ruins of the fakestinyan Royal Palace,
      tombs of the Fakestinyan kings
      medieval scrolls listing the key princoples of the fakestinyan constitution
      religious artifacts used in the distinct fakestinyan religion
      steles labelled with an ancient form of the unique fakestinyan writing.

      HAH AH HAA HA !!!!!

      Reply to Comment
      • David

        The Jebusite/Canaanites were ancestors of today’s Palestinians and it was they who founded Jerusalem around 3000 BCE. Originally known as Jebus, the first recorded reference to it as “Rushalimum” or “Urussalim,” site of the sacred Foundation Rock, appears in Egyptian Execration Texts of the nineteenth century BCE, nearly 800 years before it is alleged King David was born. Its name “seems to have incorporated the name of the Syrian god Shalem [the Canaanite God of Dusk], who was identified with the setting sun or the evening star…and] can probably be translated as ‘Shalem has founded’.” (Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem, One City, Three Faiths; Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1996, pp. 6-7)

        No credible archaeological evidence, or more importantly, writings of contemporaneous civilizations, have been found that prove Solomon or David actually existed. (Nor has any real evidence been discovered to confirm that the Jewish exodus from Egypt ever occurred.)

        Renowned Jewish Israeli writer/columnist, and former member of the Knesset, Uri Avnery: “[David and Solomon’s] existence is disproved, inter alia, by their total absence from the voluminous correspondence of Egyptian rulers and spies in the Land of Canaan.” (“A Curious National Home”)

        http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fgene.2017.00087/full Front. Genet.,
        21 June 2017 – https://doi.org/10.3389/fgene.2017.00087

        “The Origins of Ashkenaz, Ashkenazic Jews, and Yiddish”
        “Recent genetic samples from bones found in Palestine dating to the Epipaleolithic (20000-10500 BCE) showed remarkable resemblance to modern day Palestinians.

        “Overall, the combined results are in a strong agreement with the predictions of the Irano-Turko-Slavic hypothesis (Table 1) and rule out an ancient Levantine origin for AJs [Ashkenazi Jews], which is predominant among modern-day Levantine populations (e.g., Bedouins and Palestinians).”

        It is estimated that the Hebrews did not invade until circa 1184 BCE and their resulting United Kingdom of Israel, which never controlled the coast from Jaffa to Gaza, lasted only about 75–80 years, less than a blip in the history of Canaan and Palestine. Even the Hasmonean Dynasty under the Maccabees lasted only about 70 years (circa 140–70 BCE) and it was under Roman tutelage. By way of comparison, the Crusaders occupied Palestine in whole or in part for about 200 years; Egyptians ruled the region between the River and the Sea for 615 intermittent years, including the era of the Muslim Mamelukes; the Romans ruled the region for 677 continuous years. It was also ruled for several centuries by two other peoples: the Arabs (Muslims), for 447 continuous years (638-1085) and the Ottoman Turks (Muslims), for 401 uninterrupted years (1517-1918).

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Really ?
          You believe in the shoddy BS nonsense published by Dr Elhaik ?
          He is the sloppiest genetic researcher ever – sort of a scientific Ilan Pappe.

          This junk has been totally dismantled by:
          1. Prof Sergio Dellapergola who called this the study a “falsification” and “one of the big canards of the 21st century.” He criticized its “exceedingly small” sample and omission of Sephardi Jews, which he said would have undermined the findings.

          2. Prof. Shaul Stampfer, an expert of Soviet and East European Jewry who emailed “It is basically nonsense.”

          3. Prof. Dovid Katz, founder of Vilnius University’s Yiddish Institute and a Yiddish language expert, savaged the study’s linguistic analysis.

          Other experts that have exposed Elhaik’s quakery are:
          Dr Pavel Flegontov, Department of Biology & Ecology, Ostrava Uiveristy, Czech Rep.
          Dr A.A. Kharkevich, Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.
          Prof. Mark G. Thomas, Research Dep. of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London.
          Prof. Valentina Fedchenko, Saint Petersburg State University

          You should read their paper specifically targeting Elhaik’s nonsense:
          Pitfalls of the Geographic Population Structure (GPS)Approach Applied to Human Genetic History: A Case Studyof Ashkenazi Jews. Genome Biology and Evolution. 8 (7): 2259–65. doi:10.1093/gbe/evw162. PMC 4987117. PMID 27389685.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          I think David is falling into the trap here of buying into Lewis’ premise that details of ancient archaeology and genetics matter one way or the other in terms of solving the conflict today. It is falling into the trap of tacitly assenting to Lewis’ racist agenda and his ridiculously dumbed down “ancient kings and coins” concept of 21st century land entitlement.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben warns his Libtard colleague, David, not to push Elhaik’s BS research too much. Ben’s reasoning is that David might fall into “my trap”.

            Even Comrade Ben, irrespectiveof his radical SJW views, realizes the shoddy 4th rate scientist’s theories represent an enormous hoax.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The trap is not yours. You are incidental.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Interesting to note that the right wing extremist case depends on such childish reasoning. Wow.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Eventually, your retorts are going to become so poorly-written that they’ll be indistinguishable from that “Remove Kebab/Serbia Strong” copypasta.

        Reply to Comment
    5. itshak Gordine

      Archaeologists have just thwarted one of the greatest mystifications of history. After DNA analyses they revealed that the Philistines of antiquity were a Mediterranean people of Greek origin. Nothing to do with the “Palestinians” who arrived thousands of years later from Arabia, Syria or the Maghreb. It was common to read here and there that the “Palestinians” are the descendants of the Philistines.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This just in. Archaeologists reported today evidence that Itshak Gordine Ha-Levy and his clan members arrived in the Levant a few decades ago at the earliest. This was discovered by receipts found at the bottom of trash heaps in northern Italy and the Tel Aviv region’s airport.

        The study also examined surface level waste heaps in the hills east of the Jordan River valley and placed the declaredly arriviste Ha-Levy clan therein. Political scientists not connected with the study commented that one of the great mystifications emanating from the mind of West Bank settlers such as Pere Ha-Levy has been not thwarted but clarified.

        The authors also found evidence, in the form of discarded military documents and DNA extracted from surface level coprolites, that, mysteriously, the Ha-Levy clan lives inside a region designated by an occupying army in the region as a “closed military zone firing range” for people with predominantly Arab DNA but the same acreage is designated by that army as a swimming and picnic area for people with predominantly European Ashkenazi Jewish DNA.

        Archaeologists cautioned that partisan political conclusions drawn from archaeological sediment findings dating from thousands of years ago is a fool’s errand of which they take the dimmest view. “Nobody’s fooled who doesn’t want to be but it seems a lot of people want to be,” they commented.

        A “review” of these finding, anonymously submitted, calling the report’s findings “leftist blah blah” was a source of bemusement for the journal editor, who elected not to publish the “review.”

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        By the way, the same study you reference that shows that the Philistines of antiquity were likely an eastern Mediterranean people originating in the region of Greece also showed that these people were not invading occupiers fed by a pipeline from back home and trying to dominate and hold themselves apart, but quickly blended and integrated, genetically and culturally, with the indigenous population, and must have held no racially divisive “purity” ideas. They intermarried and did not hold themselves apart and above. What that also says, Ha-Levy, is that these people also contributed genetically to whatever immigrants followed them and intermarried. So, the idea that the Philistines and the Palestinians and the Jews share no genetic ancestral linkages, is scientific hogwash. Not that I think any of this matters one way of the other for current politics—you’re the gene-chasing racist, not me; you’re the one selling the Disneyland kitsch-bible-nationalist version of reality, not me.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Israelis do not share any genetic resemblances with the “fakestinyans”, or to any other fictional nations like the “Narnians” or “Middle Earthers”, for that matter.

          The sooner you drop the mythical people stuff, the better for yourself and everyone involved. The JORDANIAN future of these JORDANIAN inhabitants is already baked in the cake of history. Just claiming they are someone else does not REMOVE their guilt by one little bit.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Pity the Arabs never created their fake “fakestine state” then.
            They will must just have to make do with 22 states then.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The impoverishment of your reply is self-evident.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            …….croaks the naive Leftist living 5000 miles away.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Wherever you think I live, it’s true that I’m not on the heroic front lines of preventing Arab home ownership in “Jewish” neighborhoods as you are. Here’s the deal, you and thousands of other garden variety Israelis might as well be 5000 miles away from the West Bank for all you know or care about what your army and your settlers do there in your name. Which is why no one with any sense is leaving it up the the Israelis. Anymore than anyone is going to let Jeffrey Epstein guard a girls summer camp or teach high school girls again. And like Epstein you will have to answer for it sooner or later. Epstein too thought he had an indefinite get out of jail free card. Now he is realizing his is expiring too. Bibi is realizing the same. Gangsters are gangsters.

            Reply to Comment
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