Construction in Maaleh Hazeitim (Photo: cnn.com)
BY NOAH K.
This may seem like utter trivia, pure kishkushim just one day after Bibi met Obama, but excuse me, this is important: a ceramic vessel with a Hebrew inscription was found in East Jerusalem. Excavations in the Ras al-Amud section of the city uncovered a "water pitcher" bearing the name "Menachem," according to Ha'aretz, "marking the first time such a handle bearing this name has been found in Jerusalem." Never mind that the Israeli Antiquities Authority people who put out this information to the press don't/can't date the vessel anymore precisely than "somewhere between the Canaanite era (2200 - 1900 B.C.E.) and the end of the first Temple period (the 7th - 8th centuries B.C.E.) [sic]," which I suppose means either that they haven't looked at it very closely in their haste, or that it's the kind of household ware that sometimes doesn't change significantly for centuries, even for a millenium. Never mind the gross hazards of trying to identify this particular Menachem, with, say, some pharaonic official in the region. The point is if course that the IAA found an Israelite in East J-lem.
So what's the big deal? As I have noted before on this blog, the legal status of excavations and of antiquities uncovered in East Jerusalem (and perhaps elsewhere in the territories), both under Israeli law and under international agreements on cultural heritage, is at best murky. What drives archaeology in East Jerusalem is settler money. And the IAA and other relevant authorities tend to look the other way when enforcement of the law conflicts with the objectives of organizations like the Ir David Foundation. Here, we have something slightly different -- a salvage excavation. Construction of a "girl's school" uncovered some ancient remains that, presumably, were then taken out scientifically. Just like nearby Siwan, another hotspot neighborhood, Ras al-Amud has attracted both controversial settlement building, at Maaleh Hazeitim, and archaeological interest. As Nadav Shragai wrote last year in Ha'aretz:
"Right-wing activists ascribe great significance to widening Jewish construction in Ras al-Amud, and to realizing ownership of lots and buildings that it has managed to acquire in recent years in that vicinity.
According to their thinking, Maaleh Hazeitim makes it harder to create a Palestinian territorial corridor, a sort of "safe passage" between the West Bank to the east, and the Temple Mount."
For me, this is very disconcerting; obviously a combustible situation . The best way to avoid another outbreak of violence like the one we saw surrounding the Dung Gate controversy is to depoliticize archaeology as much as possible in greater Jerusalem.