Monday, June 16, 2008

HAARETZ EDITORIALIZES AGAINST the proposed Israeli-Palestianian archaeological agreement. Excerpt from this piece by Meron Benvenisti:
Indeed, the agreement has sections that deal with the return of archaeological artifacts that were removed from the occupied territories since 1967, preservation of archaeological sites, cooperation on excavations, as well as special arrangements for Jerusalem. But the interest raised by the draft is connected less to its details than to its fundamental approach, which regards Israel's archaeological activities in the West Bank as a theft of cultural objects rightfully belonging to the Palestinians, as if Israelis were colonialist grave robbers a la 19th century, who stripped the precious historical legacy of the Ancient Near East and transferred them to museums in Europe. Now, goes the logic, as the land Israel is divided into two states and the era of colonialism is brought to an end, what was stolen will be restored to its rightful owners.

This approach transforms national cultural heritage into a matter of collections, which exist to be exhibited in museums before tourists, or to be part of the antiquities trade. Even though the Cultural Heritage Agreement declares that "Israel and Palestine constitute one archaeological domain that is divided by political borders," the concept that drawing geopolitical borders can determine the ownership of an ancient artifact - or an archaeological site - by one nation or another, is not only simplistic and legalistic, but should be unacceptable to anyone for whom national or cultural heritage is not dictated by "peace makers" specializing in conflict resolution and creators of a virtual world.

It is true that chauvinists and settlers have corrupted this heritage and turned it into a rite of blood and earth, but it must also be recognized that an approach that is willing to view the Qumran site, for example, as Palestinian, is an unfortunate approach that stems from revulsion at the aggressive effort to transform the Palestinians into aliens in their homeland.
Background here.

UPDATE (17 June): Todd Bolen has much more from Joseph Lauer here.