As a result of the recent debates on Israel’s rights over the territories occupied, it appears that Israeli authorities have made a series of attempts to justify their ties with the land and to legitimize the occupation. In this context, in order to prove their antiquity with the land, they have used a variety of archaeological materials to fabricate legitimacy in international platforms and media. One such attempt took place in the UN General Assembly on December 21, 2017, just before the vote on the Jerusalem resolution. Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, showed an archaeological coin during his speech to emphasize the fact that, the Jewish people have a 3000-year old history in Jerusalem and it is an indivisible part of Israel;
I have here a replica of an ancient coin found on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is dated from the year 67 A.D. during the time of the Second Jewish Temple. The words ‘For the Freedom of Zion’ are written on it. This coin is proof of Jerusalem’s ancient ties with Jews. The negative attitudes of UNESCO and the General Assembly do not bind us.
He used the archaeological material in that way to normalize the occupation. Before transferring the coin to the General Assembly, Israel had used archaeological evidence to persuade other countries’ Ambassadors to the UN to think favorably about the draft resolution that Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel. Indeed, during the tour of UN ambassadors to City of David, Danon lifted the coin which he had showed in the UN General Assembly and said;
UNESCO ignored the historical connection between the Jews and Jerusalem, but the coin you saw in my hands –‘For the Freedom of Zion’ inscribed on it- was found in the excavations of King David. Only one of these coin excavations is indisputably a sign of the Jews’ connection to Jerusalem. Today, we are trying to fulfill the order on the coin.
In this context, before the vote of the resolution of Jerusalem, most Ambassadors in the UN were hosted in Israel and archaeological tours were organized by Israel to show Israel’s “historical ties” with Jerusalem.
After the acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the US, Israeli authorities have also used archaeological data as evidence to normalize the occupation and Jewish existence on the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967. Thus, they expect the US to accept the status of the Golan as the territory of Israel like Jerusalem. Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party in Israel, wrote two articles in The Times of Israel about the status of the Golan Heights which Israel had held in 1967 and annexed in 1981. He argues that Golan could not be given back due to security reasons. Atid emphasizes that Golan belongs to Israel within the framework of historical and archaeological evidence: “The Golan is the biblical Bashan. In Deuteronomy, it says, “Ramoth in Gilead, for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, for the Manassites”. Also, he refers to a synagogue and a coin dating back to 4th century A.D. and to 67 A.D. respectively. Inscribed on the coin is “For the redemption of Jerusalem the Holy”, indicating the old history of the Jews in the region. He pointed out the historical ties to make it clear that the Golan should have been given to Israel rather than to Syria. Thus, the Palestinians and the Druze should have no claim over the land, as the synagogue and the coin are supposed to make the land a Jewish possession. Using archeology this way provides credibility to pretentions for groups of people who are dependent on their historical conditions, such as Jews.
In this context, when we look at the history of politicized Israeli archeology, it is seen that the materials from archaeological excavations have been used in a manipulative way to prove the Jewish existence in the region. As a matter of fact, from the moment when the first Zionists migrated to Palestine, they tried to legitimize their existence on the land against the Palestinians, the main inhabitants of the region at that time. They tried to establish a legitimate basis for their existence in the region by presenting archaeological data with the biblical narrative which served as the legitimate certificate of its existence in Palestine. In this framework, besides their efforts to prove their existence, they began to destroy historical ties of the Palestinians with the help of archaeological data. Therefore, biblical archaeologists in Israel and Europe have attempted to Judaize all of the material elements of the culture which were found during the archaeological excavations in the region.
In 2007, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was criticized by Israeli researchers because he said that ancestors of the modern Palestinians are the Canaanites in order to emphasize the antiquity of Palestinian identity. According to the Israeli archaeologists, there is no connection between the people living in the region in ancient times such as Retenu, Hurru, Amuru, Canaan, Philistia, to the modern Palestinians. For such an understanding, history begins with Israelis, and an Israeli historical singularity is disclosed to the world historiography. With the material evidence put forward, a perception that “the Jews are the only nation that lays claims on the region as motherland” is created. There is no such thing as an ancient history of Palestine because “other people’s are only prehistoric and extinct”. Since the Palestinian name was given by the Europeans, it is not possible to make a historical case of the antiquity of modern Palestinians and to write a history through it. Historically, the “absence” of material evidence that can validate the indigenousness of the Palestinians, creates a vacuum in the land and this vacuum is filled by Israel. As a result, the indigenous status of the Palestinians has been eliminated due to the absence of antiquity.
As a matter of fact, Jerusalem, which is the head of Israel’s claims, has also been Judaized by the same geological excavations. Since Jerusalem is a place considered sacred by three monotheistic religions –Jewish, Christian and Muslim- it is possible to see the spatial identities of three religions in the city. However, as a result of Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, the identity of the city began to change significantly. The expansion of the archaeological excavations, establishing museums and national parks in East Jerusalem have destroyed the historical evidence of other religions. In this way, the occupation of the city is normalized under Jewish visibility.
The archaeological excavations that began in 1968, following the occupation of the city, as well as the pieces of evidence obtained from the excavations have been presented by Israel as the proofs of the Jewish historical rights in Jerusalem. In this context, they focus on the remains from the period of King David and Second Temple Period, the periods when Jewish existence was most visible in Jerusalem. Palestinian neighborhoods such as Maghreb, Shafar, and Maidan were thus evacuated, excavated and demolished. The displaced Palestinian physical assets have been replaced by museums, monasteries and parks.
Excavations in the City of David, especially in Silvan, with a population of 55,000, legitimized the Jewish existence through archaeological materials, tours, museums, and passes. In the minds of the tourists, Jerusalem’s image as a Jewish city has been created through the archaeological tours. The image is further strengthened, especially in museum visits. Israel has opened museums to exhibit archeological remains which illustrate the historical connections of the Jewish nation with Jerusalem. The past has undergone a wide range of aesthetic surgical operations, and deep wrinkles are hidden by the historians and archaeologists. A stupendous Jewish national narrative/image has been created in the “promised land”. As a consequence, the Jewish existence in the occupied regions is normalized and the rights and existence of the Palestinians are nullified.
Header Image: Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon speaks at the UN General Assembly. Credit: Mark Lennihan/Bloomberg
 Nadia Abu El-Haj, “Translating Truths: Nationalism, the Practice of Archaeology, and the Remaking of Past and Present in Contemporary Jerusalem”, American Ethnologist, Vol. 25, No. 2 (May, 1998), s. 170-172
The author is a PhD student at Sakarya University Middle East Institute in Turkey. His research interests are Jews History, Zionism and History of the Modern Israel, Ottoman Jews and History of the Middle East.