Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Digging In - or Out?

How can intelligent people come up with such a plan?

UCLA and USC archaeologists hope preserving the Middle East's shared past can pave way to protecting the future

USC archaeologist Lynn Dodd and UCLA archaeologist Ran Boytner mobilized a team of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists to draft a plan for the disposition of the region's archaeological heritage following the establishment of a Palestinian state.

For the first time, the would-be peacemakers publicly revealed the fruits of their negotiations and underlying research to approximately 200 Israeli archaeologists during a four-hour presentation on April 8 at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. The plan involves the return of artifacts and agreement over the protection of designated archeological sites.

Archaeologists Ran Boytner of UCLA and Lynn Swartz Dodd of USC acknowledge that their 39-point Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group Agreement, an outgrowth of their Shared Heritage Project, faces massive political and emotional roadblocks, especially on the Israeli side.

"In the Middle East, the archaeological links to the past represent more than scientific knowledge. They underpin each side's claims to the land," said Dodd, curator of USC's Archaeological Research Collection and lecturer in religion. far none of the Palestinian negotiators, and only two of the Israelis, have been willing to go public by name for fear of physical or professional reprisal or intimidation.

The two identified Israeli archaeologists are Rafael Greenberg of Tel Aviv University and David Ilan, director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

Under the proposed agreement, as well as under international law, Israel would have to make the major concessions, including returning a large number of sites and artifacts located in, or taken from, the territory of a future Palestinian state.

These may include such sites as Qumran, where the scribes of the Dead Sea Scrolls may have lived and worked; Samaria, capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel; and Mount Ibal, where Joshua built an altar to God. [all good Muslim sites, eh?]

Other provisions of the agreement include:

Full protection of all sites and free access for scholars and the public, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

More than tripling the area of Jerusalem under special protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which now includes the Temple Mount, Western Wall and the walls of the Old City. The extended area would roughly equal Jerusalem's boundaries during the 10th-century crusades.

Prohibiting the destruction of archaeological sites because of their religious or cultural affiliations.

Support for establishment of archaeological museums, laboratories and storehouses to assure proper handling of returned artifacts.