Editorial: the King's Illegal Journey

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Issue . 53
P. 3
Editorial: the King's Illegal Journey
The Israel Museum’s current exhibit in
Jerusalem on King Herod the Great, “The
King’s Final Journey,” has everything.
Walking through its well-curated rooms,
one encounters a wealth of stunning
artifacts, from fragments of delicate
floral murals to a reconstructed Throne
Room and Herod’s marble bathtub,
both from his Jericho palaces, to an
astonishingly beautiful mosaic panel
from lower Herodium. Panoramic media
reconstructions of some of the major sites
of this munificent master builder include
Herodium (Herodian), Caesarea, Masada,
the Jericho Winter Palaces, and Herod’s
temple in Jerusalem. The exhibit culminates
in a pièce de résistance, a room containing
the three carved sarcophagi discovered in a
mausoleum unearthed at Herodium in 2007,
now pieced together (and reconstructed)
after being smashed to smithereens some
2000 years ago, and shown in public for
the first time. And through it all, the tale of
Herod’s dramatic – indeed melodramatic
– life. With all these riches from the most
extensive (and expensive) archaeological
exhibit ever mounted in Jerusalem, who
could want for more?
Once could – in fact and in justice – wish
either for less or much more. Less, because
many of these important artifacts were
illegally excavated and illegally removed
from sites in the occupied West Bank.
Drawing close to many of the most stunning
objects – including the tombs themselves
– one finds a discreet acronym, SOAJS,
standing for “the Administration of Judea
and Samaria,” also listed in the catalogue
among the lenders to the exhibit, along with
more august institutions like the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York.1 This “lending,”
we might say crudely but aptly, carries a
silent history of appropriation and plain theft.
The King’s Illegal Journey
Although international law prohibits occupiers from any excavation in occupied territory
with the exception of “salvage operations,” Israel has not only excavated extensively
throughout the course of its forty-five year occupation, but taken advantage of its
post-Oslo control over Area C – the 60 percent of the West Bank which conveniently
includes Herodium, Qumran and other major sites – to continue to do so with impunity.
Although museum officials cite the Oslo accords as allowing Israeli “involvement” in
archaeology in the West Bank,2 the accords, flawed as they are, merely note (in Annex
III) that “in Area C, powers and responsibilities related to the sphere of Archaeology
will be transferred gradually to Palestinian jurisdiction,” a time that has been infinitely
postponed, but which does not negate prevailing international law. The resulting damage
is not only to history and heritage. Ha’aretz journalist Benny Ziffer aptly calls Herodium
“a cultural settlement,” and notes its many disruptions to the lives and livelihoods of
surrounding Palestinian villages.3
And one could also wish for much more, as the exhibit is full of curious absences,
including a sense of a common and complex heritage. Instead it is a show which,
as Yonathan Mizrachi of the alternative archaeology organization Emek Shaveh
observed, will have “a major political effect on Israeli public opinion about Jewish
heritage and will strengthen claims to the land.” Herod himself, with his Idumean
paternal relatives, his Nabatean mother and a brother named Phaesal (Faisal) speaks
to the mix of peoples and cultures in this sliver of the Eastern Mediterranean that
does not fit a monochrome “land of Israel” narrative. (Herod’s propensity to murder
family members and assorted others – mostly Jews – also makes him a somewhat
strange ancestor to claim). Absent from these rooms are not only acknowledgements
of Palestinian archaeologists and their institutions, but the Palestinian “neighbors”
of these sites in Jericho, Bethlehem-area Herodium, and Nablus-area Sebastia, who
cannot reach Jerusalem to view this celebratory exhibit.
The exhibit also does not stand on its own – it is part and parcel of Netanyahu’s
“Landmarks” project delineated in a 2010 plan to develop historical sites linked to
Zionism and “archaeological sites marking the Jewish presence in the land of Israel
throughout the ages.” The aim as stated in the promotional literature is quite clear, “to
breathe new life into Zionism.” In an excellent report, Emek Shaveh notes, a number
of the archaeological sites targeted for development, including Herodium, Qumran
and Susya, are in the occupied West Bank and chosen for ideological reasons. Indeed,
upon the finding of Herod’s tomb at Herodium, the former head of the Gush Etzion
settlement bloc proclaimed it as “further proof of the direct connection of Gush Etzion
to the history of the Jewish people and Jerusalem…”4 The Landmarks project’s current
plan is to reconstruct the tomb at Herodium as a structure twenty-five meters high
which can be easily seen from Jerusalem. As Ha’aretz newspaper remarked, “there
seems to be no other place in the world where a historical monument has been rebuilt
from new materials for tourists.”
It is to this site in the merry, merry land of Area C that the artifacts from Herodium
will be returned – a return that Israel Museum director James S. Snyder cites as
showing that the Museum is doing “the best and the right thing for the long-term
Jerusalem Quarterly 53 [ 5 ]
preservation of material cultural heritage.”5 But it is the production of a heritage,
rather than its preservation that should be the worrying issue. In the words of Tel
Aviv University archaeologist Raphael Greenburg, himself a critic of the exhibit and
a founder of Emek Shaveh, “Archaeologists are in the business of creating collective
memories.”6 Herod’s final journey has brought him to a dangerous – and illegitimate –
resting place.
In future issues, Jerusalem Quarterly hopes to invite archaeologists and historians
to address these issues in greater depth. In this issue of JQ, we explore decidedly nonroyal
approaches to Jerusalem and its environs, where everyday life is highlighted.
At the age of 100, the distinguished Jerusalemite, Sami Hadawi, gave his intimate
and to date unpublished memoirs to friends. JQ is pleased to publish the first of two
excerpts describing his childhood and early youth here. Hadawi’s childhood memories
are sometimes idyllic – a three-day picnic in Wadi Qelt for example – and replete with
Jerusalem “firsts,” from the first plane to the first (contested) cinema showing. But his
descriptions of the conditions during World War I, whether lice, locusts, or a loaf of
bread stolen by a hungry policeman, bring back a harsher reality, including the death
of his father, fighting “in a war he did not believe in.”
Leaving for Amman, his widowed mother and Sami encounter an “infestation of
hyenas,” en route, a reminder that environmental changes are also part of Palestine’s
history. (He is also frightened as a child by a herd of donkeys in the Old City). Penny
Johnson’s essay on the vanishing camels of Jerusalem and Jaffa traces environmental
transformations in Palestine’s urban and rural landscapes in the Mandate era by asking
“where have all the camels gone? – and when, and why.” While she includes a panoply
of camel memories, she also discusses the “repressed camel memory syndrome”
among urban Palestinians, and concludes with a contemporary account of the “last
camel in Jerusalem” – and his melancholy fate.
Robert Mazza examines the “missing voices” in the historiography of late Ottoman
and early British-ruled Jerusalem, particularly in the transitional war years, observing
that “the choice to ignore the years of the war clearly shows the lack of attention to
the city and its inhabitants.” Indeed, Sami Hadawi’s memoir, cited above, confirms
Mazza’s point that “local issues such as the famine of 1915-16, the invasion of locusts,
or the militarization of the local environment overrode international questions.” The
“artificial and arbitrary” division of the history of this period obscures, he notes, the
development of “indigenous modernity” and he provides a useful review of scholars
whose works address this key issue.
One of the scholars cited is JQ’s co-editor Issam Nassar who contributes to this
issue an essay on war photography in the first of two albums of John Whiting, a
photographer in the American Colony’s photo department. The album of 243 photos
portrays soldiers and officials on the Palestine and Sinai fronts between 1915-1917.
While presenting a case for the importance of photographs in understanding the
history of the period, Nassar also argues that the photos were staged to create a “heroic
narrative” of the war and soldiers’ readiness for battle: “What we see in the pictures
was carefully planned ahead of time for our benefit. Nothing that relates directly to the
plight of the soldiers or to actual combat is presented.” In other words, Sami Hadawi’s
father, dying in a war he did not believe in, stands outside the frame.
Finally, Francesco Chiodelli reflects on the “likely urban shape of the ‘new
Jerusalem’ over the next decades,” analyzing both official Israeli documents and
territorial transformations already under way, such as the building of the Wall and
Jewish residential expansion into East Jerusalem. While he argues that planned and
on-going transformations signal a “spatial amputation” of Arab Jerusalem, he also
notes that these are “potential futures,” presumably unless countervailing forces are
brought to bear. A clearer focus from scholars and activists on the everyday lives,
actions and experiences of Palestinian Jerusalemites is one important place to start.
And finally, JQ warmly welcomes new members of its Advisory Board Yusef
Natsheh, Rochelle Davis and Beshara Doumani, and thanks outgoing members
Martina Rieker and Shadia Touqan.
With this issue JQ bids farewell with much gratitude to two outstanding scholars, for
their support over the last two decades: Martina Rieker (Cairo) and Shadia Tuqan
(Jerusalem). We also welcome four distinguished scholars as new members of its
Advisory Board Yusef al-Natsheh, Rochelle Davis, Beshara Doumani, and Nadera
March 2013
1 Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey,
edited by Silvia Rizenberg and David
Mevorah, Jerusalem, Israel Museum, 2013,
p. 4. Artifacts excavated from sites in East
Jerusalem (excavations which are equally
illegal under international law) are attributed
to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
2 See “Correction February 15” to Jody
Rudoren, “Anger That a Herod Show Uses
West Bank Objects,” The New York Times, 13
February 2013.
3 Benny Ziffer, “Herodium turns into a cultural
settlement,” Ha’aretz, 22 February 2013.
4 Quoted in Emek Shaveh, “Israel’s National
Heritage Sites Project in the West Bank:
Archaeological Importance and Political
Significance,” 2012. Found at www.alt-arch.
org, accessed 28 February 2013.
5 Harriet Sherwood, “Israel unveils Herod’s
archaeological treasures,” The Guardian, 12
February 2013.
6 Reid Singer, “Archaeologists Fear Their
Work in Jerusalem May be Tainted by Settler
Politics,” BlouinArtinfo, 29 November 2012.
Found at www.artinfo.com.