Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

"Where nobody is acting like a decent human being, try to be a decent human being," Rabbis for Human Rights.

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Some of you sent me messages of support after I spent a night in jail recently, and you asked me how you could be of help. You can. Please read on to find out how. In fact, your involvement may make all the difference whether or not we are able to stop the extreme right wing group, "Elad," from causing further damage to Palestinian homes as they irresponsibly and unprofessionally carry out archaeological digs in the middle of the populated East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. As I indicated in the essay I wrote after my night in jail ( also see blog entry by RHR-NA Executive Director Rabbi Brian Walt and RHR-NA's website entries about Silwan),

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America

we are taught in Pirkei Avot, "Where nobody is acting like a decent human being, try to be a decent human being." (2:6). All too many people who know that something terribly wrong is taking place are staying silent because of Elad's money and political connections. We need your help to sign a petition to stop the archaeological work until it can be done safely and to find archaeologists who will stand up for the ethics of their profession. Just as the coalition seeking to stop the use of "moderate physical pressure" brought 5 prominent international jurists to sit in the front row when the Israeli High Court heard arguments on the matter and ultimately outlawed these practices, we believe that archaeologists respected by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) can influence the IAA to do the right thing. Just as the Israeli High Court decision on torture ultimately was to Israel's credit, we believe that stopping the excavations in Silwan until proper measures are taken to stop the damage to roads and homes can only improve the IAA's reputation in the archaeological world.


Because the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan is considered by many to be the City of David, an extreme right wing group, Elad is dedicated to trying to "Judaize" the neighborhood. They buy homes, sometimes legally, and sometimes illegally. Many of the legal sales are carried out through straw men to hide the real identity of the buyer, to put pressure on individuals with a secret to hide, etc. Incomprehensibly, the National Parks Authority has given Elad almost total control over what is one of the most sensitive and important archaeological sights in the region. Technically it is the Israel Antiquities Authority that is carrying out the excavations, but everything is funded (and apparently dictated) by Elad. If the Second Temple era tunnels that most likely connect Silwan to the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock are opened up in an insensitive way, the region could explode. As a human rights organization, Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) is involved because the excavations are being carried out in a way that has caused roads to cave in, cracks to appear in homes, etc. The Israeli High Court has frozen one site until it hears the case, but work at other sites continues.

RHR is one of several organizations that is working to stop the archaeological work until proper steps are taken to safeguard the homes. Neither we nor the residents are against archaeology, and one of the most important groups in our coalition is a group of Israeli archaeologists, which includes Dr. Rafi Greenberg from Tel Aviv University. However, both Jewish and archaeological ethics teach us that people take precedence over archaeology. We believe that the important excavations in this neighborhood could be carried out by responsible bodies in a way that would involve and not harm the residents, as was the case before Elad was given control. It is key that archaeologists who are known and respected by the Israel Antiquities Authority contact the IAA so that the many archaeologists, whom we understand know that something is terribly wrong but have been hesitant to do anything about it, may finally do the right thing. Dr. Greenberg's group has created a petition.

Additional information you might need can be found at the website of the Israeli archaeologists, The media and information section has quite a number of articles, and you can view both the petition and a list of people who can be contacted directly (reprinted below). Anybody who is ready to take a stand now can sign the petition, but we think that it would be at least as powerful to make, in a more neutral way, an inquiry to the Israel Antiquities Authority as to whether the excavations in Silwan are being conducted according to professional ethics and standards, what can be done about damage to homes, why a non-professional organization such as Elad has effective control over the excavations, etc. In addition to the list below, archaeologists should contact those whom they know personally in the IAA.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you have further questions. We would, of course, be willing to answer them, as would Dr. Greenberg and the other Israeli archaeologists involved. Please contact us at

info AT

to let us know which archaeologists you have contacted and what the response is. We also need copies of all correspondence between archaeologists and the IAA and notification of all oral communication.

Thank you in advance for your help in restoring professional and Jewish ethics to Israeli archaeology.


Professor Benjamin Kedar,
Chairman of the Israeli Antiquities Authority Board,

Shuka Dorfman,
director of the Israeli Antiquities Authority,

Ghaleb Magadla,
Israel's Minister of Science, Culture and Sport,
or (spokesperson for the Ministry)

Tsipi Livni,
Israel's Foreign Minister,

Professor Mike Turner,
Israel World Heritage Committee,

Daniel Bar-Eli,
Secretary General, Israel UNESCO Committee,

David Korbluth,
Ambassador to UNESCO,

B'Vrakha (In Blessing)
Rabbi Arik Ascherman
Executive Director
Rabbis for Human Rights
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