Appeal to the High Court – to reveal archaeological activity in the WB

Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din appealed to the High Court demanding to reveal the names of the archaeologists excavating in the West Bank and the locations of the archaeological finds in their possession. The appeal was submitted after the November 2016 District Court decision in which it was ruled that the information was not to be disclosed, out of fear that it would cause an academic boycott and be detrimental to Israel’s international relations. It was also mentioned that the archaeological finds are an issue that could affect the agreement between Israel and Palestine. In the appeal we claim that academic information is not to be concealed out of fear of an academic boycott. The archaeological finds are cultural assets belonging to the general public and, first and foremost, the residents of the excavated site – the Palestinians. Therefore, the commissioner of the antiquities (the Civil Administration) is required to publish their location, the identity of the excavators and the academic institutions involved.

On Thursday, December 22, the Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din organizations appealed to the High Court following the District Court ruling not to reveal the names of the archaeologists excavating in the West Bank, not to reveal the locations of the archaeological finds and not to reveal the list of borrowers – to which exhibits, museums and other sites the Civil Administration loaned the archaeological finds.

The appeal submitted by the attorneys Ishai Shneidor and Carmel Pomerantz, is based on the demand that the archaeological information provided by the Civil Administration be identical to the information provided by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Since archaeological finds are considered a national asset, and an asset of the residents of the excavation site, and since the archaeological excavation is part of academic research, it is important to publish the objectives of the excavation, the names of the excavators, the location of the excavation, and an accompanying academic publication. In order to protect the assets discovered underground, the responsible parties must store the findings in suitable conditions. The question remains, how do the authorities use the stored finds and to whom do they lend them.

One of the absurdities of the court ruling is that, while it was decided that excavating in some godforsaken site in the West Bank could hurt Israel’s international relations, all the excavations conducted in Jerusalem, Silwan village, and near the Temple Mount, are published by the Israel Antiquities Authority. As far as the boycott supporters are concerned, the same goes for the West Bank as for East Jerusalem.

The district court decision not to reveal information that belongs to the public due to the concern that it would be detrimental to Israel’s international relations and cause an academic boycott is a perturbing example of how the Israeli desire to operate in the West Bank is an infringement of freedom of information and academic research.

In our opinion, the explanation of protecting Israel from an academic boycott (real or not) does not justify infringing basic professional standards of academic activity and professional transparency – it will ultimately be harmful to the core values of Israeli society.