Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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13 Ellul 5760 - September 13, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
His Only Motives Were Power and Money

by. S. Yisraeli

The resignation of Amir Drori from his position as the director of the Antiquities Authority has brought the unpleasant atmosphere at that archeological institution to the fore. A recent write-up in the finance daily, Globes, disclosed the wars of the archaeologists.

As expected, Amir Drori attacked the chareidi community: "The chareidim do not recognize the laws of the State," he declared. However, unintentionally he related how he himself broke the law when he continued to charge contractors fees for excavations in defiance of the High Court's decision against such a practice.

The newspaper relates how a month ago, Amir Drori suddenly announced his resignation: "The official explanation provided was that there was a need for rotation. That excuse might have sounded logical, had we not recalled that Drori, who is 63 and is two years away from retirement age, has held his post for 12 years, not an acceptable life cycle for a public position, and not one which points to the desire to constantly revitalize the Antiquities Authority."

The paper explains that between the lines it is possible to discern that Drori, an IDF general (res.) and a former deputy chief of staff as well as a former Golani brigade commander, simply wanted to leave while he was still on top:

"After 12 stormy years, in which he was the target of endless numbers of critics and malingers -- archaeologists, politicians and chareidim -- who still accuse him of many of the failings of archeology in Israel, Drori wanted to leave when no one could claim that he had forced him to leave."

Globes writes that many in the archeological establishment in Israel were happy to hear about his resignation.

"He is the man who many claim managed to increase the power of the Antiquities Authority beyond an advisable level, and succeeded in fixing it so most of the money floating around archeology remained in the Authority's safes," the paper pointed out.

"Archeologists, it seems don't only deal with the past. They are very interested in the present -- and the present for acheology is replete with intrigues, mudslinging, fights and power struggles over big money."

The Antiquities Authority is a statutory body whose function is to advance archeology in the country. It has the power to permit excavations and the surveys, and deals with findings.

However, the Antiquities Authority is not only a statutory body, but also an executive one, which conducts excavations, supervises them and charges fees -- steep fees -- for the work.

This is the source of the contention with the archaeologists. Many of them claim that since the authority is a statutory body, it should refrain from conducting digs.

However, the Authority won't easily forgo its digs. Its annual budget ranges from NIS 120 million to NIS 130 million a year. NIS 40 million comes from the State, and it collects another NIS 80-90 million from the contractors for whom it conducts the archeological excavations.

Since two thirds of its budget is based on the excavations it conducts, it is hard to convince the Authority to forgo the digs.

Over the years, the contractors paid and remained silent as long as the projects were finished. But about two years ago, when the Authority decided that an excavation had to be conducted on a certain area in Kfar Shmaryahu, its residents raised an uproar.

They turned to the High Court, which determined that the Antiquities Authority may declare an obligation to dig, but it is may not collect money from citizens for the digs and must pay for them from state funds.

If that weren't enough, in May of this year, Tel Aviv's court ruled that the Authority must return more than a million shekels to a contractor who was charged for a digging.

Meanwhile, when asked why he continued to charge fees even after the High Court's ruling in the Kfar Shmaryahu case Drori replied:

"Due to political problems it was impossible to discuss an amendment to the law, and the meaning of the decision is that all of the development work in the country should have stopped. Therefore we had to decide: either stop the tractors or continue to work, not exactly according to the law.

"When they began work on the Trans-Israel highway the question was whether the work should be stopped, exposing us to the risk of suits of NIS 600,000 a day or to conduct the excavations and go on as before.

"The problem in Israel is that from a political standpoint it is especially impossible to amend any law, especially the Antiquities Law. If we wait for the law to be amended, our situation would be very bad."

Globes relates that the question of who will fund the excavations, as well as who will conduct them, has over the years become a focal point of the war between Drori and other archaeologists, who claim that the Antiquities Authority is functioning in defiance of the law, harms the contractors and makes certain that it gets the money.

Drori claims that everything "is internal politics, and struggles over money and power."

Alon Shavit, the director of Ramot Archeology the executive arm of the Archeological Institute of the Tel Aviv University and who to a great extent led the campaign against Drori, claims:

"Drori is trying to create the impression that he is leaving after having completed the magnum opus of his life, when the truth is that it is he who brought archeology to an unprecedented crisis. By means of his agressiveness, he has left scorched earth everywhere.

"Even the court determined that under his leadership the Antiquities Authority put its hand into the pockets of the citizens. He doesn't know how to take criticism, and regards whoever opposes him as an enemy.

"He should be credited with establishing the Antiquities Authority and transforming it from a branch of the Education Ministry to an independent authority. But since the authority's founding, it has constantly been embroiled in fights and arguments. He made unbridled financial demands on the contractors, and it was felt that every demand of the Authority must be complied with by the contractors, whom he held captive. In some of the cases, work which had no archeological value was implemented.

"If he had listened to criticism, he would have known that there was no justification for some of those excavations. I would be happy to read scientific articles on at least some of the findings which in his eyes were so important."

Shavit was asked: "Even if the criticism is discerning, we mustn't forget that we are speaking about financial rivals who compete with the Authority in tenders for excavations advertised by various contractors."

He replied: "It is true that we have an interest in receiving a decent share of the finances, but that is only a small detail in the overall labyrinth of problems.

"During good periods, there is work for everyone. But during periods of hunger, they curb our steps. In addition, Drori canceled the Archeological Council, and when the time to deliberate on the change of the law arrived, he prevented the Council from taking such measures. His only motives are money and power."

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