Cablegate: Antiquities Authority Archeologist Criticizes


DE RUEHTV #0479/01 0601429
R 291429Z FEB 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Antiquities Authority Archeologist Criticizes
"Politicization" of IAA Digs in East Jerusalem

REF: Jerusalem 292

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In a meeting with emboffs February 20, Israeli
archeologist Gideon Suleimani, a staff archeologist with the Israel
Antiquities Authority (IAA) and former head of the Authority's
Jerusalem district, explained what he described as the ongoing
"co-optation" of archeological digs by right-wing Jewish settler
groups as a tool for establishing Jewish presence in locations
throughout East Jerusalem. According to Suleimani, these groups are
using archeology to promote the "judaization" of Jerusalem and to
prevent the political division of the city in future negotiations.
Echoing comments heard by others (reftel), Suleimani argued that the
ongoing El'ad-financed excavations in the East Jerusalem
neighborhood of Silwan were undermining the community and adding
tinder to the explosive issue of sovereignty in Jerusalem's historic

2. (SBU) Suleimani, who for several years was the chief IAA
archeologist for the Jerusalem district, described the "co-optation"
of East Jerusalem excavations by settler groups as a function of
shrinking government budgets for the IAA's work. Every year the GOI
gives the IAA less, and settler organizations give it more, he said.
He charged that all archeological digs in East Jerusalem are
political and argued that they are not in the interest of the
residents. Suleimani noted that he is not the only IAA archeologist
concerned with the politicization of the digs in East Jerusalem, but
said most of his colleagues are afraid to speak up for fear of
losing their jobs and other negative repercussions. He said he is
one of three archeologists to speak openly against settler-funded
digs in East Jerusalem.

3. (SBU) Suleimani focused much of his discussion on the settler
organization El'ad, which is the Hebrew acronym for "el ir david" or
"to the City of David" (present-day Silwan, just south of the Old
City). As reported reftel, El'ad is currently sponsoring a
tunneling project that begins in Silwan and will end somewhere near
the Western Wall plaza outside the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif,
going under the homes of many Palestinian residents along the way.
Suleimani explained that when the Labor government came to power in
1992 and made it more difficult for settlers to acquire Palestinian
property, El'ad shifted its tactics by acquiring a contract from the
Israel Nature and Parks Authority to manage the national park that
borders the Old City walls and includes the northern side of the
City of David. El'ad realized it could take control of public areas
of Silwan using archeological digs ostensibly aimed at further
developing the national park. According to Suleimani, El'ad does so
by working with the IAA to sponsor "tourist digs" in the City of
David. Once a dig is initiated, El'ad fences off the area and
limits the surrounding public space available to residents in the
already crowded village of Silwan. He claimed that some of the digs
bypass the legally mandated processes that govern the initiation of
digging at new sites.

4. (SBU) Suleimani said that although the IAA initially resisted
these activities, it eventually became a kind of sub-contractor for
El'ad, conducting excavations with lucrative contracts for the
development of the City of David national park. He said that as the
public budget for the IAA shrank over the years, it was supplemented
by income received from El'ad and other settler groups who were
willing to pay large sums for IAA excavations, leading to a
situation where the IAA now relies on funds from these organizations
even for its routine operating budget. Suleimani estimated that
approximately one-third of the IAA's total operating budget now
comes from "tourist digs" sponsored by the settler organizations
El'ad, Ateret Cohanim (which focuses its efforts on acquiring Arab
property in the Old City) and the semi-governmental Western Wall
Heritage Fund (which manages the Western Wall plaza and tunnels
system). (Note: IAA Director General Shuka Dorfman confirmed the
relationship with groups like El'ad, Ateret Cohanim and the Western
Wall Heritage Fund in a meeting with poloffs last summer, but
described their sponsorship of digs as no different from that of any
other legal Israeli entity wishing to develop a given site.
Suleimani, on the other hand, described Dorfman as someone willing
to do whatever these groups ask because of his dependence on their
funds and personal support. End Note.)

5. (SBU) Suleimani also readily acknowledged that the settler
movement is not the only player using archeology inappropriately in
Jerusalem. When asked about the Waqf's role in archeological
projects in Jerusalem, Suleimani said that the Waqf has caused "a
lot of damage on the Temple Mount," primarily when it created a new
mosque and access tunnels in 1997-98. He said Waqf coordination
with the IAA (which is done quietly because of the political
sensitivities on both sides) has slowly improved over the past two
years, after a long hiatus caused by the tunnel riots of 1996 (in
which dozens of people were killed when then-PM Benyamin Netanyahu
and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert approved a new opening of the
Western Wall tunnel in the middle of the Old City's Muslim Quarter).


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