9 November 2000 (Newsroom)
and rock throwing, Palestinian archaeologists are engaged in an
academic battle with their Israeli counterparts over the history
of the Holy Land.
politicians are urging their scholars to find proof that antiquity
supports their claims to the region and its holy sites. Israeli
negotiators at the most recent Camp David peace talks say that
the archeological issue was the hottest topic, with Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat attempting to delegitimize Israeli claims
and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak using historical counter
what touched off the recent clashes is itself rooted in historical
concerns. Palestinians call current violence an "Al-Aqsa intifada"
after the mosque located on what Jews refer to as the Temple Mount,
a sacred Jewish site under Israeli sovereignty since 1967 where
archaeological digs continue.
Authority insists the violence was sparked by conservative Israeli
leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Mount, which is revered in
the Muslim world as the Noble Sanctuary. Israeli
leaders argue, however, that Islamic leaders from Umm al-Fahm,
one of the largest Arab communities in Israel, were holding rallies
for an "Al-Aqsa intifada" long before Sharon's visit.
"Al-Aqsa is in danger" has been the rallying cry of the Islamic
movement in Israel for years, the Israelis point out. The movement
has invested labor and millions of dollars donated by the Arab
Gulf states into restoring Al-Aqsa and publicizing allegations
that Israel plans to annex the mosque. For years Arab towns around
Galilee were pasted with posters depicting the chained golden
dome surrounded by a halo of fire with a clenched fist rising
out of the flames.
that Sharon’s visit, accompanied by a large contingency of Israeli
police, provoked a particularly raw religious and political nerve
among Arabs, but Israel insists that was not the intention. Israeli
Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami asked in a recent meeting with
prominent Israeli Arabs: "Does anybody think that there is a sane
person in this country, this government, who wants to harm the
sacredness of Islam, who wants to harm Al-Aqsa? We have had sovereignty
over the Temple Mount for 30 years, and we have never changed
the status quo. Under our sovereignty, the biggest mosque in the
Middle East has been constructed."
But the more
militant northern wing of the Islamic movement headed by Umm al-Fahm
Mayor Sheikh Ra’ed Salah charges that Israel is trying to destroy
Al-Aqsa. Recently, Sheikh Salah stated that "the constant excavations
carried out by Israeli archeologists under the mosque are affecting
its foundations" and that "so far, the archeologists have found
nothing (at the site) that belongs to the Jewish people."
between Israeli and Palestinian archeologists always has been
tense. Most Palestinian scholars reject the Jewish belief that
archaeological evidence accords Jews the strongest claim to the
Holy Land. Some Palestinians claim their presence in the region
predates the Jews by more than a millennium. Modern-day Palestinians,
according to that school of belief, are not the descendants of
people who drifted from the Arabian peninsula in recent centuries,
as most historians believe, but are the direct descendants of
the Philistines, Aegean Sea people who settled on the coast of
Canaan in the 12th century B.C.
archeologist Dr. Adel Yahya argues that "Palestinians are the
descendants of the ancient Canaanites themselves, who were present
in the land before the Israelites arrived."
is no physical evidence to back these assertions, they have been
popular among Palestinian academics for at least a decade. Mainstream
international archeologists flatly reject that belief. Palestinian
Islamists also shy away from the theory, which would make them
descendants of pagans.
of Palestinian historians asserts that their people are the part
of the Jewish nation that did not leave after the destruction
of the Temple in A.D. 70 and subsequently converted to Islam.
research carried out at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and University
College in London has shown that many Jews and Arabs are indeed
closely related. More than seven out of 10 Jewish men and half
of Arab men whose DNA was studied inherited their Y chromosomes
from the same paternal ancestors who lived in the Middle East
in the Neolithic period in prehistoric times. A
previous study of 1,371 men from around the world by the University
of Arizona found that the Y chromosome in Middle Eastern Arabs
was almost indistinguishable from that of the Jews.
are in good agreement with historical evidence and suggest genetic
continuity in both populations despite their long separation and
the wide geographic dispersal of Jews," wrote Hebrew University
scholars, however, choose to create a distinctive Palestinian-Muslim
narrative that denies Jewish historical claim for the Holy Land.
Edward Said, a leading Palestinian intellectual, argues that "biblical
scholars had effectively conspired with the Zionists to write
the Palestinians out of Middle Eastern history. Now, the Palestinians
are hitting back attempting to loosen the Jews' historical
grip on the disputed land."
a lecturer in archeology at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, recently
declared: "Even the term Judaism is not very old. There is no
record of Judaism before Jesus."
A recent Israeli-Palestinian
archeological conference in Beit-Jala became turbulent when Israeli
archeologist Ronny Reich presented evidence purporting to show
that the ancient and modern Hebrews are one people. Reich said
that the ancient Jewish ritual baths he had excavated in Jerusalem's
Old City are identical to those established in the Talmud and
still in use two millennia later by the Jews.
In a fiery
response, Dr. Moain Sadek, the Palestinian Authority's director
of antiquities, asserted that these were merely "ancient bathhouses"
with no particular Jewish significance. Sadek later rejected the
term "biblical archeology," claiming that Christian and Jewish
scholars base their conclusions on distortions. He castigated
his Israeli counterparts for employing what he called "religious
terminology," such as "Second Temple period" to describe the late
Iron Age of 1000 B.C. to A.D. 324.
scholars try to strengthen their position by citing controversial
theories of the "new Jewish archeologists" who probe the legitimacy
of earlier unquestioned evidence that appear to confirm the biblical
stories. The most prominent in that school is Tel Aviv University
professor Israel Finkelstein, who argues that there is no archeological
evidence to support stories of the book of Exodus, which includes
the wanderings of the Jews in Sinai and Joshua's conquest of Canaan.
"The ancient Israelites evolved from the local late Bronze Age
Canaanite civilization," Finkelstein claims. "There was no brutal
military invasion. And if the united kingdom of David and Solomon
ever existed, they were small tribal affairs. As for Solomon's
Temple, there is no hard archeological evidence for it."
Israeli archeologists repeatedly charge that their Palestinian
counterparts are conducting reckless excavations on the Temple
Mount in the process of expanding and renovating the Al-Aqsa mosque
and are deliberately destroying precious archeological evidence
of the Jewish temples. Israeli archeologists are prevented from
supervising these digs by Waqf, an Islamic trust controlling the
Muslim holy sites.
Authority's (PA) Planning Ministry Web site, in its sections on
history and on Jerusalem, makes no mention of Jews, Judaism, the
Bible, or the Temple. The site details only the significance of
Jerusalem for Muslims and Christians. The
PA Tourism Ministry's Web site also does not mention Jews or Judaism.
Tourism Ministry Web site, however, highlights the city's significance
to "Jews, Christians, and Muslims" and identifies Al-Aqsa Mosque
as Islam's third holiest shrine. "Most archeologists do not accept
the revisionist view," says Hebrew University archeologist Amihai
Mazar. "We have been able to prove the veracity of much in the
Bible, particularly the later books."
Jerusalem district archeologist, says the Palestinian effort to
question the existence of the Second Temple "is tantamount to
Holocaust denial. There is a huge body of evidence. The Arch of
Titus, erected in Rome to commemorate the destruction of the Temple
in A.D. 70, is powerful contemporary proof."
Rabbi Benny Elon, from the national religious camp, asserted that
the Palestinians cannot acknowledge any Jewish roots in the Holy
Land "because Islam arrived only in the 7th century with a different
version of the biblical narrative. The sacrifice of Isaac, for
example, had become the sacrifice if Ishmael. Any archeological
evidence to support the Bible is therefore dangerous and has to
a former leader of Peace Now, put it differently: "I am not happy
when I hear the Palestinians say there was no Temple here or no
Jewish history here. It's obviously political demagoguery. But
the discussions about what happened here 2,500 years ago have
no bearing on the current political talks. The Western Wall is
important, not because it stood near the Temple but because it
has become a symbol."
Authority's Sadek clarified that he is not suggesting that the
area has no Jewish heritage. "I just say that all the inhabitants
of this ancient land were Palestinians: Jews, Christians, Muslims,
and pagans," he said. "The Bible was misused for political purposes
for the last 100 years. Excavations were carried out with an Old
Testament orientation, and that's been very damaging to the Palestinians.
I am not against the Bible. The ancient cities of Megiddo and
Hatzor, for example, are mentioned in the Bible. But they were
inhabited by Philistines and Canaanites well before the Israelite
period. Interpretations must be reworked."