Israel is stepping up its efforts to seize control of Palestinian heritage sites and antiquities in the occupied territories in violation of international law, Palestinian and Israeli archaeologists warned this week. The experts echoed criticisms levelled against Israel in a recent resolution passed by the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, that accused Israel of interfering with major holy sites in occupied areas.
Officials in Jerusalem have approved a massive construction project, including plans for housing, shops and a hotel, on one of the largest and most historically important Islamic cemeteries in the Middle East. A previous project to build a courthouse at the site, part of Mamilla Cemetery, was scrapped earlier after it provoked a storm of protest.
The largest exhibition ever staged by Israel’s national museum, dedicated to the life of King Herod, has generated unprecedented excitement at home and abroad. But the exhibits have been taken from sites located in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank, outside the recognised borders of Israel. PA official Hamdan Taha said: “This is just the latest example of an Israeli policy to use archeology to cement its political claims to land that belongs to the Palestinian state.”
Israeli authorities are pressing ahead with plans to build a courthouse complex on a large historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem that is already at the center of protest over plans to locate a “Museum of Tolerance” there. The proposed courthouse is expected to provoke stiff opposition, especially from Islamic groups, after it was revealed that an excavation last year for the museum, close by, unearthed as many as 1,500 Muslim graves.
The Israeli government has indicated that it will press ahead with a plan to enlarge the Jewish prayer plaza at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, despite warnings that the move risks triggering a third intifada. Israeli officials rejected this week a Jerusalem court’s proposal to shelve the plan after the judge accepted that the plaza’s expansion would violate the “status quo” arrangement covering the Old City’s holy places.
No one is more surprised than Shlomo Sand that his latest academic work has spent 19 weeks on Israel’s bestseller list – and that success has come to the history professor despite his book challenging Israel’s biggest taboo. Dr Sand argues that the idea of a Jewish nation – whose need for a safe haven was originally used to justify the founding of the state of Israel – is a myth invented little more than a century ago. An expert on European history at Tel Aviv University, Dr Sand drew on extensive historical and archaeological research to support not only this claim but several more – all equally controversial.
From just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, the simple stone and cinder-block homes of Silwan cascade southwards into a valley, known as the Holy Basin. The Palestinian residents are used to living in the shadow of history and religion, given dramatic physical form as the great silver dome of the al Aqsa mosque and the looming presence of the Mount of Olives. But of late, history has become a curse for most of Silwan’s residents. “We have cameras everywhere watching us night and day,” said Jawad Siyam.