Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

25 Teves 5759 - Jan. 13, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Archaeologists Defy Order Not To Disturb Burial Cave; Antiquities Authority Rapped For Housing Delays

By B. Kahn and A. Zisman

Archaeologists of the National Antiquities Authority are continuing to desecrate ancient Jewish graves in the large burial cave in Kfar Arah, in northern Israel, despite an order from the head of the Ministry of Education demanding that the desecrations cease.

As reported last week, a team of archaeologists from the University of Tel Aviv first entered the cave under the cover of Shabbos, in early December. Sent by the Authority, the team found that the cave contained so many graves that not all of the bones could be removed in one day. When the archaeologists returned to the site in the middle of the following week to continue their pilfering, their work was inhibited by religious activists of the Organization for the Prevention of Grave Desecrations. The activists then called on Yitzchak Levi, head of the Ministry Education which has jurisdiction over the Authority, asking him to stop the desecrations and to protect the graves that remained in the cave.

Levi ordered the Authority to keep its team away from the cave. During the last week in December, however, the Authority disregarded the order and sent in its team again. The archaeologists broke into three additional crypts in the large cave, and desecrated all the graves in all three crypts.

Religious activists tried to stop the work, but as has happened so often in the past, the Authority enlisted the help of Israeli police to prevent the activists from even approaching the cave.

Efforts are still continuing at the Organization for the Prevention of Grave Desecrations, in hopes of saving the few graves that remain in the cave. In the Knesset, MK Rabbi Avrohom Yosef Lazerson bitterly complained about the desecrations at Kfar Arah, and called on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to personally intervene to put an end to the current situation, where the Authority wantonly attacks ancient graves all over Israel "in broad daylight, and no one is able to stop them."

Rabbi Lazerson said that the prime minister "must intervene immediately, to do everything in his power to put an end to these terrible attacks on ancient graves." Not only do the desecrations violate the rights of the dead, but they also "cause pain and anguish to the gedolim of Israel, as well as to tens of thousands of Jews who can no longer tolerate the present situation."

Commenting on another aspect of the current dilemma, Deputy Housing Minister Rabbi Meir Porush said that the Antiquities Authority has become "one of the biggest obstacles to housing construction in Israel." Rabbi Porush claimed that at the present time "archaeological considerations" that the Authority says must be taken into account are standing in the way of the construction of approximately 32,000 homes in Israel, units which are needed to help solve a growing housing crisis.

In a recent Supreme Court ruling, the Authority was criticized for abusing the law that requires public and private firms to pay for "rescue digs" to save archaeological artifacts which may be endangered by construction projects. The court declared what has been common knowledge for years -- that the Authority has made it a practice to halt construction projects and require such "rescue" digs even where the chances are practically nil that any artifacts are endangered. In addition, the Authority itself conducts these digs, and consistently charges firms exorbitant fees for its services.

The court ruled that the Authority should no longer involve itself in the digs at all, for "it is not proper" that one public body have the power to both determine the need for digs, and also conduct the digs and collect fees for them. At the same time, the court ruling supported the Authority's right to freeze construction projects pending legitimate rescue digs, wherever according to the Authority's "expert" opinion, there is a reasonable suspicion that a threat to archaeological artifacts exists.

According to Rabbi Porush, the court's criticism of the Antiquities Authority angered the Authority's director, Amir Drori, who is blocking the 32,000 home-building projects on the familiar pretense that the projects pose a danger to archaeological artifacts which allegedly are buried where the projects are planned. For the time being, the Authority is not letting the projects proceed until "rescue digs" are conducted to determine whether, in fact, there are artifacts that are endangered and should be excavated from the areas in question.

Rabbi Porush said, "By freezing these important housing projects, Drori is trying to put pressure on Knesset members, in the wake of the court ruling which wants to stop the Authority from amassing wealth through the collection of its illegal fees."

The 32,000 units are "on hold" not only because of the problem of "archaeological considerations," but also because of different types of "legal complications," Rabbi Porush said. As to the main reason for the delays, Rabbi Porush admitted that the Antiquities Authority is the lesser of the two problems, but the archaeological obstacle is nonetheless a very serious problem, which must be solved in an effective and permanent way, as soon as possible.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.