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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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,
"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."