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Haaretz reported on Thursday that Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology plans to start digging in al-Bustan, located in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, in cooperation with Elad, a private right-wing organization notorious for using the “City of David” National Park to further expand Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.
While a Tel Aviv University spokesperson told me they will be “cooperating strictly with the Israel Antiquities Authority,” it is a well-known fact that any dig in Silwan (whether in City of David, known to Palestinians as Wadi Hilweh, or farther down the road in al-Bustan, where Jerusalem’s mayor plans to build another national park called the “King’s Garden,” at the expense of 22 Palestinian homes) means directly cooperating with Elad, which founded and operates the site – with the backing of the Antiquities Authority, the National Parks Authority and the government.
The Haaretz story also claims that the dig will be directly financed by Elad, with the Antiquities Authority merely serving as a channel to transmit funds. Moreover, both the paper and other organizations like Ir Amim (which focuses on the political conflict in East Jerusalem and has done extensive research on Elad and the City of David) have already established that Elad is responsible for settling over 500 Israeli Jews throughout Silwan – and Elad director David Be’eri has himself been caught on tape admitting the digs he oversees endanger Palestinian homes situated above.
Tel Aviv University (where I earned my BA) is the same university that allowed students to conduct a Nakba ceremony on campus last May, despite calls by the Education Ministry to cancel it, and the risk it took of being found in violation of the “Nakba Law.” While distancing itself from the event, the university took a brave stance in insisting on its students’ right to freedom of speech and protest.
In this case however, the university seems to have no problem at all aligning itself with a far-right organization that is not only creating facts on the ground in East Jerusalem that further entrench occupation, but is also using academics and archaeology to promote its own political agenda.
I asked Tel Aviv University spokesperson Orna Cohen whether the university considers Elad to be strictly an archaeological organization despite its well-known involvement in settlements and hostility to Palestinian residents, and she chose not to respond. I also asked her for comment on the sharp criticism that has been waged by archaeologists against the City of David’s archaeological integrity and accuracy (including by Professor Raphael Greenberg, one of the university’s own professors!) and she chose not to comment on that either.
In fact she chose not to respond to any of my questions about Elad, or the university’s positions on settlements in East Jerusalem, and did not even mention Elad in any of her responses. Her only comments were that TAU is a public institution and as such, “It is natural for it to cooperate with other public bodies such as the Education Ministry, Defense Ministry and Antiquities Authority.”
After receiving these troubling answers (by email), I called her and told her I was disappointed that she didn’t actually respond to most of my questions, and asked if she would reconsider. I said that not addressing the issue makes the university look even worse. She told me she would think about it and get back to me, but when she did, she informed me it was decided that the answers she provided are sufficient.