Friday, May 30, 2008

USC, UCLA professors work on Israeli-Palestinian archaeological pact

Lynn Dodd and Ran Boytner are helping to devise a plan for handling the region's rich heritage.

By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 30, 2008

JERUSALEM -- A pair of archaeology professors from crosstown rivals USC and UCLA are working together to help bring harmony to a small corner of the lengthy conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

For five years, Lynn Dodd of USC and Ran Boytner of UCLA have sought to come up with a plan for handling the rich archaeological heritage of the Holy Land should a binding peace deal be reached for the creation of a Palestinian state.

The pair organized the Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group, bringing together three Palestinian and three Israeli archaeologists to craft a blueprint for the eventual disposition of hundreds of historical sites and thousands of artifacts.

After three years of sometimes contentious negotiating sessions overseen by professional mediators, the group has formulated a nonbinding model that could be put into action once the final borders of a Palestinian state are defined. Their next step is to submit the proposal for discussion in June at the World Archaeological Congress in Dublin, Ireland.

The Dead Sea Scrolls would be a particularly touchy area:
From the Israeli side, one of the immediate sticking points is the future status of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The ancient texts are viewed in Israel as a national treasure, and Israeli officials made it clear from the start that putting the scrolls into Palestinian hands was not an option.

"The Israelis are very emotional about them," Jubeh said.

At least some of the scrolls were unearthed on what is now Palestinian land, Greenberg said, but many first came to light when they turned up on the antiquities market.

The joint archaeology document states that the fate of certain highly sensitive artifacts should be addressed by the politicians during final negotiations.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls are a political issue. We recognize that will be a political decision," Boytner said.

And though all sides acknowledge that the scrolls probably will remain in Israeli hands, Boytner said, "there must be a legal way to do it. The Israelis can't just say, 'We're going to keep it and that's it.' "

Background here. This remains a utopian exercise until there actually is a peace agreement.