Archaeology in the Holy Land: A Weapon of History, Representation, and Politics


I am writing to you as a concerned global citizen regarding the current status of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its effects on the global heritage sites in the city of Jerusalem.

Since even before the establishment of the state of Israel, the global community has been involved in the excavation, restoration, and preservation of the rich cultural heritage that exists in the city of Jerusalem, because the city is the locus for three of the world’s largest religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The city and the surrounding area include the sites that preserve much of the history and religious sites of the three Abrahamic religions. For Judaism, Jerusalem holds the remains of the temples of the Jewish King Solomon. For Christianity, the city was the stage for a large part of Jesus’s life. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the location of Muhammad’s night journey (memorialized by the Dome of the Rock) and the city served as the first Qibla or direction of prayer before Mecca.

However, as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel and the displacement of Arab-Palestinians, archaeological monuments and their historical interpretations have been used as weapons and tools for the construction of legitimate national narratives and, therefore, some of the religious sites have fallen victim to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As a way of establishing direct roots to the geography, the state of Israel has developed one-sided archaeological policies that have completely ignored the Palestinian-Arab influence on the area, appropriated Palestinian-Arab heritage sites as Jewish historical sites, or eradicated them from history by destroying them. As a result, the ways in which the archaeological sites have been manipulated or construed have affected the lives of thousands of people and shaped their claims of sovereignty over the Holy Land.

The sovereignty of the city of Jerusalem is also directly tied to the current immediacy of the archaeological sites since the majority of the sites are located within its geographical boundaries. Both states, Israel and Palestine, claim Jerusalem as their capital. Currently, the city of Jerusalem is under Israeli occupation. Thus, a UN resolution concerning the preservation and maintenance of archaeological sites would directly affect Israeli claims of sovereignty of the city of Jerusalem.

In its original resolution after the establishment of Israel in 1948, the UN stated that Israel was to respect international legitimacy and return East Jerusalem and the occupied territories to the Palestinian Authority. This UN resolution began many discussions regarding the sovereignty of the city, and entrusted the UN to find a resolution. The UN proposed several ideas including the internationalizing and multiple sovereignty of the city. Each of these ideas faced many obstacles; the main one was lack of valid recognition of the resolutions by the state of Israel.