If history is a matter of dispute in the Middle East, so too is some of the archaeology underway to document and preserve remnants of that history.
The Israeli military has an archaeology unit that is responsible for excavations in most of the West Bank, land captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by Palestinians for an independent state.
According to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, the status of the West Bank — and the artifacts found there — are to be negotiated in eventual peace talks. Until then, the military archaeologists continue to dig — and grant excavation permits to Israeli academics to dig — in the West Bank.
“Our work is mainly to preserve the history of the area,” said Benny Har-Even, the military’s deputy staff officer for archaeology, walking among the ruins of a village dating to the 2nd century B.C.
Nearby, the Palestinian workers the army employs laid cement to reinforce a row of stones, preparing the site as a tourist destination.
The military’s archaeologists see their job as a race to save some 3,000 known archeological sites in the area. “We need to take care of them, to protect them, to try to avoid bandits destroying them,” Har-Even said.
But some aspects of Israeli archaeology in West Bank are not made public by the army, according to Israeli archaeologist Rafi Greenberg of Emek Shaveh, a left-wing group of archaeologists critical of the digging.