Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

10 Shevat 5759 - Jan. 27, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Last Graves In Burial Cave Looted By Archaeologists; New Legislation Referred to Finance Committee

By E. Rauchberger

Despite efforts to stop them, archaeologists of the National Antiquities Authority desecrated the remainder of the graves in the large burial cave in Kfar Arah in northern Israel, ignoring for the second time an explicit order from the Minister of Education that the attacks on the graves at the site cease.

In reaction, MK Rabbi Avrohom Yosef Lazerson last week bitterly complained on the Knesset floor, and again demanded that the Knesset set to work immediately on legislation that would curb the Authority's powers and stop grave desecrations in Israel once and for all.

Rabbi Lazerson accused the Authority of willfully violating the law, which says that human bones are not considered archaeological artifacts. He told the Knesset that Amir Drori, the director of the Antiquities Authority, has admitted that Authority archaeologists in Israel empty bones out of approximately three thousand graves every year, and Drori attempts to justify this as legitimate scientific investigation, which is in the interests of archaeology. In truth, said Rabbi Lazerson, the repeated desecrations are not only illegal, they are "contrary to all natural feelings of human decency."

The assistant minister of Education, MK Modi Zendberg (Tzomet) defended Drori, saying that the Antiquities Authority has not been violating Israeli law. "The Antiquities Authority not only does not desecrate graves," he said, "it also saves grave sites that are endangered by development projects."

Prior to Rabbi Lazerson's appeal, chareidi interests managed to defeat a move in the Knesset which was designed to bring about new legislation to allow the Authority to continue to conduct rescue digs and to collect fees for them.

The Authority has made it a practice to halt construction projects and require the developer to finance a "rescue" dig even where the chances are practically nil that any artifacts are endangered. The construction of some 30,000 housing units is being delayed on account of the Authority. In addition, the Authority itself conducts these digs which it orders, and consistently charges firms exorbitant fees for them.

Late last year, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that this arrangement was improper, and recommended that the Authority only keep the power to determine whether such digs are necessary, but the digs be conducted by other interests and the fees would thus not wind up in the Authority's coffers.

Two weeks ago, a motion was offered on the Knesset floor to circumvent the court's decision, through new legislation which would confirm the Authority's power to conduct the "rescue" digs and charge its fees. It then had to be decided to which Knesset committee the motion would be referred. The law's supporters favored the Knesset's Committee on Education, which is headed by MK Emanuel Zisman, a supporter of Drori. Chareidi interests preferred that the motion be referred to the Knesset's Finance Committee, which is headed by MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz.

MK Rafael Pinchasi (Shas) who heads the Knesset steering committee which decides the matter, worked with Rabbi Lazerson and others and, in a 7-6 vote, the Knesset steering committee voted to refer the motion to the Finance Committee of Rabbi Ravitz.

Rabbi Ravitz denied that he intends to "bury" the motion, as supporters of the Authority charged. "On the contrary," he said, "My intent is to have a motion on this subject read three times before the current Knesset." He added, "I support legitimate archaeological digs to discover information about the past, but such digs cannot be conducted in ways that are in violation of halacha."

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