Press Release: The educational project “Discovering Jewish History” is harmful to archaeology and to education about Israel

Emek Shaveh: What if a coin with a Byzantine cross or a metal tool with Arabic inscription from the Muslim period were discovered?

December 23, 2015

Education Minister Naftali Bennett will visit an archaeological excavation tomorrow (Thursday 24 December) to promote a project of ‘Masa Yisraeli’ (Israeli Routes Odyssey) and of the Israel Antiquities Authority to discover Israel’s past. This plan is a distortion of archaeological research, whose task is to explore the history of the country’s various peoples and cultures. Archaeology is instead being mobilized to ‘discover’ Jewish remains, thereby strengthening national religious ideologies. The Education Ministry and the IAA should separate Judaism from archaeological research and promote a complex and multicultural familiarity with the history of the country.

As reported today by Masa Yisraeli, “as part of a unique project taking place the first time, the Education Minister Naftali Bennett will take part in the large-scale project that will expose thousands of students from different schools all over the country to findings in archaeological sites. Masa Yisraeli in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority set out at the beginning of the current school year on a unique project where every Thursday students will learn about the connection of the Israeli people to the land of Israel, entitled ‘The Nation and Me in the Land Day.’ The students will begin a unique project of discovering Jewish history through excavations all over the country where they will search for new historical remains.”

The IAA’s and Ministry of Education’s use of archaeology to strengthen the students’ connection to the Jewish people and to Israel is a harmful use and distortion of archaeological research, and of the teaching of the history of the country. Archaeology studies the past of places and sites, based on the findings of materials left behind by those who lived in them at various times. The Jewish past of the country is one aspect of the remains exposed alongside those of other cultures that lived here side by side for thousands of years of history.

The IAA and the Ministry of Education ought to teach the students about the history of the country, and to recognize the fascinating and indisputable fact that it is a collection of peoples and religions, past and present. The past does not belong to a particular nation. Any attempt to divide the archeology to “theirs” and “ours” is historical revisionism and leads to the closing of critical thinking and to national and religious extremism.

We at Emek Shaveh believe that archaeology can bring rapprochement to peoples and cultures, and that archaeological finds should not serve as a means of proving a people’s ownership of any place.

We believe that archaeological finds tell a story independent of the dictates of traditions and beliefs, and that listening to this story and passing it on to the public has the power to enrich culture and promote values of tolerance and pluralism. The cultural wealth of archaeological sites is part of the cultural richness of the country that belongs to its communities, peoples and religions.

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