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Israeli Education Minister Proposes Law Obligating Property Owners to Pay for Rescue Excavations

By Betzalel Kahn
Special to Yated Ne'eman

Education Minister, Yitzchak Levi, has instructed the General Director of the Antiquities Authority, Amir Drori, to draft a proposed law to the effect that one who orders rescue excavations (i.e., the property owner) must pay for them.

Levi's directives were made in the wake of the recent High Court ruling that one who orders the rescue excavation shouldn't be billed, and that the State should subsidize the work. According to Levi, this decision has huge budgetary implications which the State will not be able to handle. This is liable to result in the canceling of excavations and in the prolonged postponement of development and construction work.

The implication of the Education Minister's directive is that despite the decision of the High Court, the Antiquities Authority will be able to continue, without any apparent limit, to destroy Jewish graves and to desecrate the honor of the deceased.

In a discussion with the General Director of the Antiquities Authority, Amir Drori, Levi directed him to prepare the draft of a proposed law, and he advised him to place this proposal on the table of the Ministers' Legislative Committee.

Levi noted that every delay in the preparation of the proposal and its presentation bears serious consequences in the areas of development and construction and is liable to result in the crippling of the activity of the Antiquities Authority. "You must do your utmost to draft the proposal immediately," the Education Minster said.

The Federation for the Prevention of the Desecration of Graves reacted angrily to this latest step of the Education Minister, who is quickly kowtowing to the Antiquities Authority.

"First of all," the Federation stated, "the Education Minister must change and amend the existing law, which enables the archaeologists of the Antiquities Authority to run rampant throughout the country and to desecrate thousands of ancient graves, in a most grievous manner, every year.

"The primary concern of the Education Minister, who is in charge of the Antiquities Authority and is a Torah-observant Jew, must be to prevent the desecration of the graves, an issue which deeply pains and disturbs hundreds of thousands of Torah-observant Jews all over the world. Only after he has done that, can he help the heads of the Antiquities Authority to overcome the problem of the High Court ruling regarding the financial aspect of the excavations, "according to the Federation.

Upon learning of the Education Minister's announcement, Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz, chairman of the Knesset's Finance Committee, held a pointed discussion with him. At this meeting, the two agreed that in addition to the new amendment to the law which Levi requested, Levi must present an additional amendment which will legally anchor the principal of safeguarding Jewish graves from damages caused by the archaeologists. At Rabbi Ravitz's suggestion, the Minister's Committee for Legislation will prepare and present this amendment.

Rabbi Ravitz and Yitzchak Levi concluded that a possible means for effecting the amendment of the law is to establish a governmental committee with the authority to determine the procedures for the conducting of excavations, in a matter in which Jewish graves will not be desecrated -- a proposal raised by Rabbi Ravitz in the past.

It is highly unlikely that Levi's proposed amendment will be accepted in the Knesset if it doesn't have the support of the religious parties. The only condition on which the religious parties will agree to its passage is if Rabbi Ravitz's proposed amendment is anchored in the law by the government.


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