The Court Allowed the Civil Administration to Conceal Archaeological Activity in the West Bank

Yesterday (Monday, November 21), the Jerusalem District Court rejected most of the petition submitted by Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din demanding that the State reveal the names of archaeologists who excavate in antiquities sites in the West Bank and the locations of the archaeological finds, as is expected of the Israel Antiquities Authority within Israeli borders. The reason given: the excavators’ and the state’s fear of an academic boycott that will be harmful to the archaeologists and will make it difficult to continue (Israeli) research in the Occupied Territories.

The petition was submitted against the Civil Administration and the Staff Officer for Archaeology, both of which are responsible for issuing licenses on behalf of the state to conduct archaeological excavations in the occupied territories.

We believe that the District Court’s decision to allow the Civil Administration to conceal the names of excavators and the locations of archaeological finds is above all an indication that in the West Bank, archaeology is treated as a political activity preferably conducted in a clandestine fashion, and not as a field of academic research. Revealing the name of the researcher and publishing their methodologies and finds is a basic rule of scientific research. The main motive of a researcher is that their findings reach the public, and that the scientific discoveries become public knowledge. If concealing the names of archaeologists is permitted in the West Bank, the public has no way of knowing where the archaeological finds are located, meaning that archaeology in the West Bank is intended to serve purposes that have nothing to do with archaeological research.

Section 39 of the decision testifies to the involvement of the foreign ministry in the procedure. In fact, this entire ruling is based on “potential harm to Israeli public relations” and fear of an academic boycott.

Archaeological remains are the heritage and property of the general public, including the Palestinian on whose land the findings were discovered. It is therefore odd that the court has allowed the Civil Administration to lend findings out without requiring them to report their location, and without letting the local residents know where the antiquities are stored. The court’s decision from yesterday is dangerous in that it legitimizes the practice of concealing activities in the West Bank that should be in the public domain.