David Be’eri’s Useful Idiots

Every archaeological discovery made in the City of David in the past twenty years can be measured in the dispossession and humiliation it has caused to the Palestinians of Silwan, in its contribution to the settlers’ aim of claiming the Temple Mount, and in its acquiescence in the contempt for scientific archaeology shown by David Be’eri and El’ad.

See Also: Jerusalem’s “What Me Worry” Archaeology

A Future for the Archaeology of Jerusalem

By Raphael Greenberg
Dept. of Archaeology and ANE
Tel Aviv University
March 2017

The announcement that the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement, the highest civil-society award conferred by the state, is to be bestowed on David Be’eri, the head of the settler organization El’ad, appears perfectly in line with the spirit of the times, a spirit personified by flag-waving fear-mongers who wish to impose on us all their vision of an eternal ‘clash of civilizations’, sanctioned from on high. It is, however, more than a little disturbing and significant that the chairman of the committee that recommended bestowing the prize on Be’eri is a distinguished academic, Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher of the Hebrew University, President of the Academy of Hebrew Language in Jerusalem.

El’ad might be known to the readers of this site as the moving force behind the massive earth clearance and construction operations conducted in ancient Jerusalem, in, around and beneath the Wadi Hilwah neighborhood in the Palestinian village of Silwan (a.k.a. the City of David). Archaeologists have been implicated in many of these operations, lending them an undeserved scientific credibility recently characterized by a high official of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) as ‘our original sin’. But the truth is that Israel has been awarding prizes to El’ad and Be’eri for well-nigh 30 years. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Be’eri was awarded free access to ‘absentee’ properties in Silwan (houses confiscated by the state from landlords who left or fled the country before 1948 or 1967), his first foothold there. Then, in 1995, he was awarded the keys to the Gihon Spring, at the heart of both ancient Jerusalem and modern Silwan, where he launched – under the scientific auspices of the IAA – the first of several subterranean “horizontal” (tunnel) excavations led by Dr Ronny Reich and his successors. These excavations, and the tourist ‘theme park’ development that they enabled, were entirely motivated by an ideological commitment to the reduction of the history of Jerusalem to two pivotal moments: its foundation as capital by King David (for which no archaeological evidence exists), and the 70-year window during which the Herodian temple was the focus of Jewish pilgrimage. Any other history, and especially that of the village of Silwan, was reduced to a footnote, and the people living on the site to a limbo of half-existence and semi-transparency, in the worst colonial tradition.

Rewarded by prominent philanthropic supporters of the extreme religious right, Be’eri expanded his operations, drawing the Israel Nature and National Parks Authority and the IAA into his orbit. These two organizations awarded him, respectively, with the City of David National Park tourist concession and with 22 years of ‘salvage’ excavation permits, which have formed the basis for a constantly expanding footprint in the village: Ela’d settlers alone, among the 40,000 inhabitants of Silwan, receive permits to build their houses and institutions directly on top of Jerusalem’s antiquities, while excavating under the houses of others. In a recent publication, based on documents acquired by Emek Shaveh, I have described in detail the process through which public funds were channeled to El’ad and thence to their IAA collaborators to promote the massive Giv’ati parking lot excavations, whose archaeological layers are destined for burial in the basement of a seven-story monstrosity.

Most recently, Be’eri and El’ad have been awarded a fine coat of academic whitewash by Tel Aviv University, which entered into an agreement with the IAA in 2012: El’ad would fund, via the IAA, excavations and half the salary of a full-time researcher at the Institute of Archaeology, while other IofA researchers would study materials generated by El’ad-sponsored ‘salvage’ excavations. Indeed, academic legitimation, offered by all of Israel’s major archaeological institutions, has served El’ad well. As I write, a huge, subway-sized tunnel is being burrowed by IAA archaeologists through the stratified layers of ancient Jerusalem, so that thousands of tourists might be transported from Siloam to the Temple Mount. Barring a small handful, archaeologists have acquiesced even in this blatantly destructive activity.

Every archaeological discovery made in the City of David in the past twenty years can be measured in the dispossession and humiliation it has caused to the Palestinians of Silwan, in its contribution to the settlers’ aim of claiming the Temple Mount, and in its acquiescence in the contempt for scientific archaeology shown by David Be’eri and El’ad. Archaeologists – the proverbial Messiah’s ass – should be offered a seat on the dais at Be’eri’s Israel Prize ceremony, where they may add their voice to the hoarse chorus of applause.

Comments (6)

I write from total sympathy with your concern over the humiliation of the Palestinians and over contempt for science. However, let me ask what should happen if it turned out that King Alfred had encamped where my house now stands (he was active in the area in January 871, I believe) and that there are remains there that would totally clarify the Anglo-Saxon period. Would the demolition of my house, if this knowledge is to be obtained, be too high a price to pay? Could I really say that my value as a human being is being denied or my affection for the house trivialised - at least if I were to be offered reasonable compensation? Is anything being done to the people of Silwan that financial compensation would not redress? Not that I have heard that they are being offered anything much.
More importantly, perhaps, is there no truth at all in the idea that some slices of space-time are much more important than others? My house, 80 years old and a happy home, no doubt, to many (but no important) people might be regarded as somehow insignificant compared to Alfred's spare sword from 871 and his ingenious battle plans scratched on a rabbit skin - my imagination is running away with me. Could I show
this view to be mistaken?
The actual results of all this sifting and unscientific wrecking of the sight have always so far seemed to me (my interest is amateur, to put it kindly) to go only a few millimetres
beyond the trivial. But what if Solomon's spare crown and his ingenious plans for gold overlays in the Temple suddenly turned up?
My personal sentiment is that something wicked is being done, just as you say. Voices should be raised against it but there will be a roar and a tumult of counter-propaganda and minds should be prepared for that. Hence my probing of views which, if I understand them, I share.

#1 - Martin Hughes - 03/28/2017 - 19:14

Brilliant. Thank you.

#2 - Jim West - 03/28/2017 - 20:44

Until I was conscripted into the Israeli army, we, a Jewish family of three lived peacefully across from the so called 'City of David.

Today on the Mount of Olives, settlers live there with an enormous flag atop the building surrounded by barbed wire, extra security paid for by the State. I might add when there were problems there inc. the Yom Kipper war, the Arab villagers protected us, as if we were one of theirs.

Some years ago I happened to discover 4th century inscriptions atop the so called Tomb of Absalom. One of the 7 line inscriptions was from the Old Testament and when I asked the City of David guides if they were aware of the NT inscriptions none were aware, albeit that non-city of David guides are aware of it and take tourists there.

Like the fanatical haredim who protest archaeology, seems that the City of David'and its surroundings belong to Jewish history and others do not have the right to exist, speak or condemn. The fact that the Israel prize will be given to the CEO of all of this, is a mockery of the prize and all of its supporters.

Lastly sometime ago the writer was leading a small group of tourists to the site, when a settler asked that we leave the Siloam pool as he wished to enter the water naked before the Sabbath. I explained to him politely that we were there before him and that the women in the group had probably seen a naked man before and would not be offended. He was not amused and rtn shortly with one of the armed guards, providing security for the settlers. Seeing that we were not intimidated and stood our ground they both left. When they say, 'if there is not a man around, be a man (in the generic sense)speak up and stand your ground.

#3 - Joe Zias - 03/29/2017 - 08:41

Science, deployed as a tool of the State, has a spotty global history at best; and as it touts 'learning' as a by-product as it 'benignly' serves national or political interests, science tends to betray its keenly guarded sense of objectivity and purity of method. Such emperors often have no clothes.

#4 - Joseph Calandrino - 03/29/2017 - 11:14

This is a clear example of what I among others have addressed as ”cultural memory”. It could also – using a present buzzword – be called “alternative facts”, i.e., in normal speech, a “lie”. Few serious archaeologists and historians of the ancient Levant – apart from in Israel and especially in Jerusalem – will consider the biblical story about David and Solomon to be “history.” However, the political demand in modern Israel is that it is “history”, and very much in accordance with what happened when the European national states arose in the first half of the 19th century, it became the task of the historians and archaeologist to create national histories, and so they did. The modern state of Israel demands a national history, and pay for it. Other considerations like “Mark’s house” are immaterial. So what’s on the program? We turn the biblical story as ancient cultural memory into a modern history textbook. In this way “history” really becomes, as it has been expressed, “a weapon of mass instruction”!


#5 - Niels Peter Lemche - 03/31/2017 - 15:10

Rafi, I agree with you, but with this state of affairs there is no way to change it.

#6 - Rami Arav - 04/12/2017 - 01:22

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