Giora Biran, Deputy Director of the Antiquities Authority,
was arrested for ignoring police orders to halt excavation of
the graves located on the edges of the Trans-Israel highway,
at the Ben Shemen interchange.
In the latest of a series of skirmishes between
archaeologists and chareidi activists, work at the site was
stopped after the arrival of UTJ MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, who
bodily prevented the archaeologists from continuing to
desecrate the graves.
During the confrontation Rabbi Gafni was assaulted by private
guards hired by the Antiquities Authority.
Archaeologists had arrived at the site early in the morning
accompanied by a group of hired security guards. Police
refused to provide protection for their unlawful excavations.
Inspectors for the Association for the Prevention of Grave
Desecration, who were on the site at that early hour, tried
to prevent the archaeologists from entering the area, but the
hired guards assaulted them and evicted them from the
Amir Drori, Director of the Antiquities Authority, who
personally commanded the entire operation along with his
assistant, Giora Biran, ordered the security guards to evict
the Religious Affairs Ministry officials who were on hand. In
an amazing turn of events however, the Arab workers who had
been hired by the Authority came late to work. Since senior
archaeologists do not do physical work, the graves remained
untouched for some time. In the meantime, a large group of
avreichim arrived to protest the desecration, only to
be assaulted by the hired security men.
One avreich was beaten so severely that he was
Drori, seeing that the situation was getting out of hand and
that someone had been injured, fled the site, leaving behind
other senior Authority officials who continued to supervise
the destruction of the graves.
MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni then arrived and tried to enter the
excavation area. Although as an MK he is entitled to enter
every place in the country, the security guards refused him
entry. He finally entered the area and bodily prevented the
Arab workers from digging and smashing buried bones.
Senior police officers arriving at the site were enraged at
the archaeologists for having violated all of their
agreements with the police. Police officers ordered a halt to
the work and the Arab workers were sent away.
However, Giora Biran -- unhappy with this order -- picked up
a tool and began to dig. The police immediately arrested him
along with another senior employee of the Antiquities
Rabbi Zelig Braverman, Director of the Burial Department of
the Religious Affairs Ministry, who is responsible for
burying all bones uncovered in ancient burial sites
throughout the country and guaranteeing that the graves
remain intact, arrived at the site to meet with the senior
police officer. Together they agreed that all work in the
area of the graves should be halted.
This incident was proceeded by another which took place In
the early hours of the morning on the 8th of Tammuz.
Archaeologists began to excavate and desecrate a number of
burial caves. Scores of archaeologists and workers, in an
organized, clandestine effort, spread out over the area to
totally destroy all the graves as quickly as possible.
Members of the Association for the Prevention of the
Desecration of Graves learned about the scheme and sped to
the site. Upon arrival they were greeted by a shocking scene.
Scores of archaeologists, with axes in their hands, had begun
to destroy and to desecrate the sealed burial caves in the
The activists immediately prostrated themselves on the
graves, and with their very bodies prevented the
archaeologists from continuing to desecrate the
kodesh. At the very same time, the activists informed
the UTJ Members of Knesset as well as other chareidi
activists about the occurrence. A group of avreichim
quickly arrived on the scene. The goal: to prevent the
archaeologists from carrying out their machinations.
Police, summoned to the site by the archaeologists, evacuated
the demonstrators in a brutal manner, even arresting some of
Upon the arrival of the Commander in Chief of the Lod Police
Department, Deputy Inspector General Benny Sagiv, things
calmed down somewhat, and due to the intervention of Deputy
Minister Rabbi Meir Porush, and the contact MK Rabbi Avrohom
Ravitz made with the Infrastructure Minister, Ariel Sharon,
work inside the graves was stopped temporarily, and all of
the work centered only around the caves.
Rabbi Meir Porush then arrived on the site with his aide,
Rabbi Yosef Deutsch, and asked the director of the Trans-
Israel company to intervene to prevent desecration of the
graves. Rabbi Porush then met with Deputy Commander of the
Lod police station, Yossi Kedem, who ordered a halt to the
excavations until an engineering and halachic solution
to enable the continuation of the road construction without
grave desecration could be found.
However, the archaeologists continued their work of
destruction and desecration of the ancient burial caves the
Chareidi activists who had remained at the excavation site,
once more lay down on the graves. With great mesiras
nefesh, they managed to prevent the archaeologists from a
continuation of their desecration.
Police arriving on the scene once more tried to forcibly
evacuate the askonim who were protecting the graves.
However, with the brisk intervention of Rabbi Moshe Gafni, it
was decided at the last moment to stop the excavations and to
keep the graves at the site intact. The askonim began
to return the bones, which had been desecrated and scattered
in a most disgraceful manner, to the burial cave.
In a brash move, the archaeologists filed a complaint with
the police against the prominent activist, Rabbi Micha
Rothschild, one of the heads of the Federation for the
Prevention of the Desecration of Graves, for having "dared"
to fulfill the mitzvah of the burial of a meis
mitzvah,and returning the bones of the ancients to their
Members of the Trans-Israel company also remained at the site
the entire time, urging the archaeologists not to yield, and
to continue at all costs in exhume the cave, even though it
was possible to find solutions for leaving the caves
Last week, the Antiquities Authority issued a press release,
replete with lies. In it they said that "20 chareidim
went wild at the site of the archaeological diggings
conducted by the Antiquities Authority in the Ben Shemen
site. The Authority summoned the Lod police to the site."
The devoted chareidi activists note that the exact opposite
In its press release, the Antiquities Authority noted that it
had been asked to dig on the archaeological site in Ben
Shemen in four points, as well as in the burial cave from the
days of the Bayis Sheini. "We are referring to a
plundered cave and an additional cave which must be vacated
for the purpose of paving the highway. The Authority conducts
excavations at ancient grave sites only at the request of
promoters, among them government authorities and ministries,
such as the Construction and Housing Ministry, and only for
the purpose of developing the country. Vacating the ancient
graves is a necessity, and we have only two options: stop the
country's development and construction or destroy the graves
and their contents in order to make way for progress."
In its press release, the Antiquities Authority added: "The
excavations in the graves are conducted according to the
instructions of the Antiquities Law as well as the Attorney
General's guidelines. The Antiquities Authority informs the
Religious Affairs Ministry about the excavations and
transfers bones which are found on the sites to the
representatives of the Ministry for reinterment."
Experts who have examined the area have concluded that it
contains at least six sealed burial caves, and that scores of
ancient kedoshei elyon who have been at repose there
for nearly 2000 years are buried in each of the caves.
Senior Antiquities Authority officials have proven clearly
that their sole purpose is to destroy ancient graves instead
of seeking engineering-halachic solutions for the
problem of burial sites throughout the country, particularly
at road construction sites.
These particular caves were discovered over a year ago.
Throughout that entire period they were not excavated by
Antiquities Authority archaeologists. Recently, however,
heavy pressure was exerted by the Trans-Israel company,
demanding that the archaeologists continue excavation at all
Members of the Association for the Prevention of the
Desecration of Graves note that the caves are still in great
danger. The community must be on be prepared to do everything
in its power to protect the graves from being destroyed.
Activists of the Association for the Prevention of the
Desecration of Graves remained on the site in shifts, the
entire day. As a result, no digging was done that day.