"Rescue" excavations slated for 3 Tammuz in the ancient
cemetery in Tiveria were postponed. Following a meeting by
Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz and Chairman
of the Knesset Interior Affairs Committee Rabbi Moshe Gafni
with the Education Minister, under whose auspices the
Antiquities Authority operates, it was decided to postpone
excavations for a week. During this time, attempts will be
made to reach a compromise acceptable to all parties.
On Friday, the first of Tammuz, maranan verabonon
issued a statement decrying the intention to demolish graves
in the Tiveria cemetery, wherein many kedoshei elyon
are buried. In a call for speedy activity before it is too
late, maranan verabonon appealed to all those capable
to do their utmost to prevent these excavations, for they
endanger the entire country.
The Antiquities Authority was due to begin excavations on
Sunday, 3 Tammuz. Large police forces were summoned to the
site to guard the Antiquities Authority workers. The Israel
Police also planned to evict anyone with a chareidi
appearance approaching the site. A number of demonstrators
had been arrested during the past few weeks on the alleged
claim that they had threatened workers of the Church of
Scotland -- owners of the site -- with firearms.
However, on Friday, the UTJ Knesset members Rabbi Ravitz and
Rabbi Gafni asked the Education Minister to prevent start of
the work. At the same time, Chezi Shnelzon, advisor to the
Education Minister, appealed to Antiquities Authority
director Yehoshua Dorfman not to begin excavation. Rabbis
Ravitz and Gafni stressed the seriousness of the issue,
noting that the gedolei Yisroel have instructed the
community to do everything possible to prevent such
excavations which would without fail inflict damage on the
deceased buried in the ancient Tiverian cemetery.
In the wake of the many appeals, the Education Minister
issued orders to postpone the excavation by a week, to
enable all concerned parties to reach an acceptable
solution. The director of the Antiquities Authority complied
with the request and issued orders to freeze work on the
site until the issue is settled.
The brunt of the criticism is directed at the heads of the
Church of Scotland who refuse to alter their plans to build
a hotel on the site, although it is absolutely clear that
the site is an ancient Jewish cemetery. Negotiations have
been continuing with heads of the Church for over a year,
but to no avail.
Residents of Tiveria attest that the site slated for the
building of the hotel was a Jewish cemetery used until 300
years ago. At that time, Rav Chaim Abulafia came to Tiveria
to help rebuild the city, and a new cemetery was erected
near the entrance to the city. The fact that the site served
as a Jewish cemetery is acknowledged by all parties.
During the period of Ottoman rule, the area was put up for
sale. It covers a large area, beginning at the Rambam
cemetery. The site changed ownership several times, landing
up in the hands of the Church of Scotland.
A year ago, the Tiveria Municipality innocently signed all
the necessary building permits, and construction began. But
it was then learned that the area contains numerous graves.
Every scoop of the bulldozer produced human bones. When this
became known to the Antiquities Authority, it demanded, as
always, to hold "rescue excavations" on the site before
continuing construction. The Church of Scotland attempted to
oppose thee excavations, which would delay building,
claiming that the area was autonomous. However the
Antiquities Authority managed to prove that it had authority
to hold rescue excavations on the site.
Negotiations between the heads of the Federation for the
Prevention of the Desecration of Graves and concerned
parties were held throughout the year in an effort to
prevent the excavations. Various activists contacted heads
of the Church of Scotland both in Israel and in Scotland.
However, all appeals were met with flat refusals to
The Tiveria Municipality tried to rectify its error and
offered the Church of Scotland an alternative site for its
hotel. However, the Church heads refused to reopen
discussion on the issue, preferring to rely on the permits
already in their possession.
Yated Ne'eman has learned that certain parties asked
Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres to approach heads of
the Church of Scotland in Scotland. Peres asked for three
days in which to try to solve the problem on a diplomatic
level. Education Minister advisor Chezi Shnelzon also tried
to arrange a meeting between all sides, including Foreign
Affairs Minister Peres, Education Minister Livnat, Religious
Affairs Minister Asher Ochana and representatives of the
Church. However, Peres asked for additional time in which to
try to find a way to suspend excavation on the site.
In addition, many concerned parties, including Lev L'Achim,
have warned that the Church of Scotland may really be
planning to build a missionary center in the guise of a
hotel. "At a time when hotels in Israel are in very
difficult straits, building another 140-room hotel seems to
be an exercise in futility. The impression is that the
designers have totally different plans."
In Tiveria as well as throughout the country, activists have
been placed on alert. It is feared that attempts to excavate
and then build on the cemetery will continue, even when it
is clear to all that every shovel or pickaxe in the ground
inflicts direct damage to the remains of the kedoshei
elyon of Tiveria.