The Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Bible last week in a case brought by the Palestinian Authority in which they tried to have archaeology in Judea and Samaria declared a crime. Undeterred, the PA turned to UNESCO to intervene while threatening archaeologists around the world with litigation if they participate in digs in Israel. One archaeologist, a Christian who has been sifting the sands of the Holy Land for Decades, stood strong as he was singled out for attack.
Yesh Din and Emek Shaveh, two left-wing Israeli nongovernmental organizations, filed the original petition in a Jerusalem District Court. The petition demanded that the location of the digs, the names of the archaeologists conducting them, and details of any findings be made public. The District Court rejected the petition so the two groups then appealed the decision with the supreme court. Citing the Freedom of Information Act, they demanded the government reveal the locations of any archaeological work being carried out in Judea and Samaria. The petition also called for the government to make public the identities of the archaeologists working there.
Unlike archaeological work in other areas of Israel, archaeological work in Judea and Samaria falls under the auspices of the Civil Administration, which is part of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a part of the Defense Ministry.
The supreme court ruled against making the names of the archaeologists public since it would make them vulnerable to academic boycotts, a tactic used by the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. Israeli and pro-Israel professors are frequently prevented from publishing their research, giving lectures, participating in academic conferences, or obtaining stipends and research grants.
“There’s a clear and genuine fear that publishing the names of the archaeologists … could cause concrete damage to their professional and financial interests, as well as those of the institutions with which they are affiliated,” Justice Yosef Elron wrote, explaining the decision. “Publishing the archaeologists’ names exposes them to academic boycotts in a manner that could genuinely damage their research work and their academic futures.”
“In addition, I’ve been convinced that publishing the archaeologists’ identities could even undermine their ability to complete the specific digs about which information has been requested and to make their future results known through academic publications,” Elron wrote.
The court also reasoned that the results could undermine Israel’s “interests in the framework of future negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and could even serve as a tool of attack for parties that seek to harm Israel in the international arena.”
The PA responded to the decision by the Supreme Court by issuing a warning to archaeologists around the world that participating in research in Israel “would expose them to legal accountability” and mar their academic record. In their official statement released on Tuesday, the PA asked museums and international institutions to examine all artifacts originating in Israel and refuse to accept any piece “stolen from occupied Palestinian land.”
Dr. Scott Stripling, the provost of The Bible Seminary in Texas and Director of Excavations for the Associates for Biblical Research. Dr. Stripling has been sifting the sands of Israel for over 20 years. Dr. Stripling and his organization were individually named in the suit brought by the NGO’s.
“They wanted to get the names of the board members and even the names of the donors in order to bring pressure to bear on them,” Stripling told Breaking Israel News. “It’s not going to affect us either way. We don’t care because what we are doing is way too important.”
For perspective, Dr. Stripling is currently digging in Shiloh, which he surmises may be the true site of the Tabernacle, a site of immeasurable archaeological and Biblical significance.
“Not all the Palestinians object to what we are doing,” Dr. Stripling said. “This is, after all, the study of the history of the land.”
Dr. Stripling explained the claims against him, as he understood them.
“They claim we are destroying the artifacts and robbing the Palestinians people,” Dr. Stripling said. “That is the PA and the UN position.”
He refuted these claims out of hand.
“We don’t care who is in charge,” Dr. Stripling said. “Philosophically we are more closely aligned with Israel but regarding archaeology, we are apolitical. We cooperate with whoever is in charge. We are quite simply salvaging the artifacts. If there is a change in government, everything is here in storage for them and we would cooperate with them.”
Dr. Stripling emphasized that Palestinian archaeologists do not excavate in areas that are currently under Israeli control.
“If they apply for a permit to dig in Israel, they would be seen as collaborating with the Israeli government,” he explained. “Since they can’t dig, it is important for everyone that we be permitted to continue. The real intention of the lawsuit was to stop all digging in Judea and Samaria until the conflict is settled.”
“This conflict has been going on since Isaac and Ishmael,” Dr. Stripling quipped. “It probably isn’t going to be settled any time soon. In the meantime, we have to save the archaeological evidence before it deteriorates.”
Dr. Stripling referred to Khirbet el-Maqatir, the previous focus of his research.
“It’s been totally destroyed since we dug there,” he said. “Houses were built on top of the site, illegally of course. Farmers plowed over antiquities. Antiquities in Area C (under Israeli control constituting about 60 percent of Judea and Samaria) are at risk and we can lose that history.”