Bible Archaeology

Israel and Palestine: Who Owns What – Archaeologically

While officials squabble over heritage sites, non-government experts are working behind the scenes to propose solutions.

The Art Newspaper:

In anticipation of a Palestinian bid for statehood recognition at the UN in September, Israelis and Palestinians are racing to claim cultural heritage sites in the West Bank. Both are channeling money into excavating, developing and branding sites as their own, underscoring connections bound to history and identity. Yet as each side puts facts on the ground, the rules for the contested playing field have not been agreed upon: who owns cultural property? Who can make changes to or profit from heritage sites? What legal questions are relevant? If a Palestinian state is recognised, negotiators will have to be ready to address these questions. But as the issues have never been negotiated, non-governmental experts have filled in behind the scenes, to have cultural property policy recommendations and documentation ready, in the event of a peace deal…

Framing such ongoing and explosive disputes are long unresolved questions of borders and who owns cultural heritage. In principle, archaeology and cultural heritage, like other issues, were to be worked out in Israeli-Palestinian final status negotiations. Every round of peace talks failed though, before archaeology was ever seriously discussed. The heritage committee mandated by the Oslo Accords is non-existent; the void has helped maintain intractable Israeli and Palestinian positions and discouraged co-operation.

Israeli officials have argued that heritage sites with Jewish historical connection must remain under Israeli sovereignty. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that position last year, after Unesco ruled that, despite being venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims, heritage sites in Bethlehem and Hebron are Palestinian (The Art Newspaper, December 2010, p25). He denounced the decision as “absurd”, calling it “an attempt to disconnect the nation of Israel from its heritage.”

Palestinians counter that location, not religious identification, determines sovereignty of a site…

There’s a lot more here.

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