Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Teves 5763 - December 11, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Archaeologists Digging Ancient Graves Again
by Betzalel Kahn

The Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office, Avigdor Yitzchaki, informed the Chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, Moshe Gafni, that the next stage of the archaeological excavations planned by the Antiquities Authority near Moshav Maor, on the route of the Trans-Israel Highway, is to be postponed until a meeting takes place the middle of this week among all the parties involved, however as we went to press it was not clear if this promise was honored.

This follows an appeal by MK Gafni to the Director- General of the Prime Minister's Office, in which he warned that the Antiquities Authority was carrying out archaeological excavations in violation of the Coalition Agreement, which states that any problem that would arise in this area was to be solved through dialogue. Over the past two years all the problems had indeed been solved quietly, but after the Antiquities Authority started acting in violation of the Agreement and against the law, his urgent intervention was required to prevent the destruction of the ancient graves situated inside the caves.

MK Gafni also spoke to the Director-General of the Transport Ministry and the Director-General of the Antiquities Authority, stressing the severity of their actions, following the outrage at the excavations of part of the graves last Wednesday.

It should be pointed out that despite this announcement and in the light of the Antiquities Authority's original intention to continue its destruction of the graves, activists of the Association for the Prevention of Grave Desecrations will follow up this announcement to make sure that the promise made by the Director- General of the Prime Minister's Office will be kept in practice.

After a two-year break in grave-diggings by the Antiquities Authority, archaeologists last week started to dig ancient graves at the invitation of the Derech Eretz company, which is constructing the Trans-Israel Highway. In the wake of the archaeological excavations, some avreichim arrived at the location to protect the graves from being desecrated, after having been notified by activists of the Association for the Prevention of Grave Desecrations, but they were forcibly dragged away by police.

Several months ago, a large burial field consisting of burial caves and caves hewn inside rocks was discovered on a hill next to Kibbutz Maor in the Chefer valley, which is on the route planned for the Trans-Israel Highway. According to the plans, the hill is due to be removed to make way for one of the intersections of the highway. The Trans-Israel Highway is being built by a company belonging to Africa-Israel, which is owned by Lev Levayev.

Following the discovery of the graves, and the subsequent fear that they may become intentionally destroyed, deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush requested the assistance of the Transport Ministry, which is the ministry responsible for the company constructing the Trans-Israel Highway. The Director- General of the Ministry, Ben-Zion Salman convened all the parties involved and instructed them to have this issue reviewed by the Chief Rabbinate.

However, archaeologists from the Antiquities Authority were nonetheless asked to come and start destroying the graves. Following this development, the Director- General of the Transport Ministry again convened all the parties, and undertook that no unilateral action would be taken and that the issue would only be resolved following discussions on the matter, as provided in the government agreements.

Last week more openings of burial graves were discovered at the site, sealed, with the original burial stone covering the grave. This proved that this site was a cemetery. Following this discovery, the Trans-Israel Highway Company applied increasing pressure on the Antiquities Authority to destroy all the graves so that it could proceed with constructing the Highway.

The Director of the Chief Rabbi's Office, Rabbi Refoel Frank, sent an urgent letter to Ehud Savion, Managing Director of the Derech Eretz Company, in which he wrote that the discovery of the burial caves meant that the excavations in the area had to be stopped immediately, since a halachically acceptable solution had to be found that would not chas vesholom harm these ancient burial caves.

Despite this, it became obvious that the Antiquities Authority intended to start its work of grave destruction straight away. Rabbi Meir Porush immediately set out to prevent this, demanding that the graves not be harmed. When he failed to receive a clear answer he announced that he would go to the site himself and prevent the desecration of the graves with his own body. Following this, the Director- General of the Transport Ministry announced that the plan to destroy the graves would be cancelled immediately.

However, none of the promises were kept, and last Wednesday morning many policemen and security officers from a private security company arrived at the site. Archaeologists from the Antiquities Authority dispersed workers to all the graves, who wildly dug the graves with pickaxes. Their contents were spilled onto the neighboring site, without any examination being undertaken of the clay pottery fragments that were discovered. The only item the archaeologists bothered to preserve was an ancient vessel that was taken out of a grave with great care. All the contents of the other graves were emptied out [and thrown] to the ground like dung.

A group of avreichim, who came to the site after having been notified by activists of the Association for the Prevention of Grave Desecrations, attempted to protect the graves with their bodies, but they were violently dragged away by the police. Four of the protesters were arrested, and released after several hours. Three hours after the excavations started they were stopped, following police orders, acceding to the request of the Deputy Housing Minister.

The Antiquities Authority justifies its decision to undertake the excavations with such speed, thus greatly offending the dignity of the mes, by citing the fact that they were under immense pressure from the company constructing the Trans-Israel Highway. Members of the Antiquities Authority announced that only several days remained for a dialogue with the Derech Eretz Company and, if no solution would be found, they would continue their excavation work. The Derech Eretz Company claims that any alternative engineering plan, which would prevent the damage to the graves, is unacceptable, since it would result in a delay in the construction of the Highway. Such a delay, they say, would make the company liable to a fine, due to the disruption of the timetable to which it undertook to the government to adhere.


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