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Science or Politics? Where is the Oldest Archaeological Journal, PEQ, Headed?

If the PEF chair wants to change the mission of the journal from a scientific to political one, sooner or later he must realize he does injustice to both.

By Rami Arav
University of Nebraska at Omaha
July 2017

In an editorial published recently in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (PEQ 149:1, 1-2), Professor Philip Davies, chairman of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF), attempted to explain why the Anglo-German conference mutually planned and scheduled by the PEF and the Deutscher Palästina-Verein (DPV) to take place in Jerusalem in April/May 2017 was canceled. Davies explained:

…because it proved impossible or unwise to proceed as neutrality demanded. The eastern part of Jerusalem, including the City, is not, according to international law and international opinion, part of Israel, and any excavation there contravenes the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970). Along with most other museums of major standing, the PEF therefore refuses to deal with the results of such activity.

Despite its mission statement that “PEQ is the peer-reviewed journal of the PEF, established in 1865 as the first scholarly society dedicated to the scientific study of what was then generally known as the Holy Land,” Davies decided to deviate from this scientific tradition and become political: “Neutrality, especially in contemporary Palestine, is hardly possible.”

For Davies, Israel has a regime that violates “Cultural Property.” Moreover, for the sake of discriminating Israelis, Davies divided excavations into two kinds: “Jewish excavations” and all others. While his “Jewish excavations” should be banned from PEQ for being “illegal,” all the others are Kosher.

When I queried with him his use of the objectionable term “Jewish excavations” in his editorial, Davies stated in a written reply: “In my defense, I understand that the excavations in question are conducted by Jews and funded by Jews and have a Jewish purpose, so that you might perhaps be gracious enough to allow that I was factually correct.”

That one defensive statement not only defined “Jewish excavations” but seems to imply that the Jews have some sinister “purpose” behind their “Jewish excavations.”

This is absurd. The PEF chair willingly wished to collaborate with the German DPV. This organization sponsored a dig in the Lutheran Church of Jerusalem, had Lutheran archaeologists, and was licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. If we deduce from his editorial that “Jewish excavations” indicate archaeological projects that have distinctly religious or ethnic affiliations, as Davies insinuates, the DPV excavation should be branded “a Lutheran excavation.”

Davies has a major problem understanding what archaeology is all about. Apparently, he does not know the difference between artefacts and interpretations. He doesn’t seem to understand that an “excavation” includes finds, artefacts, buildings, strata. They are mute; they have no religion, race, or biases. Archaeology is not a branch in the service of theology or any ideology. It strives to reveal ancient realities and analyze the evidence retrieved scientifically.

I have ascertained through correspondence that at least three Israeli scholars were initially rejected out of hand from the conference because their submissions were considered to be “Jewish excavations” in Jerusalem, which Davies considered to be “illegal”, and not on the basis of their scientific merit. One presentation that fully complied with the guidelines and focused on the archives of PEF in London was at first rejected solely because the presenter was Israeli. If he had written under a name like “John Smith,” the conference would have accepted his paper.

Davies justified his disqualifications on UNESCO determinations. His rejection of an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) submission concerning a salvage excavation in the Old City of Jerusalem had major flaws. The 1924 British Mandate of Palestine created the IAA, the former Department of Antiquities, to protect antiquities not to trade them. It does not “import, export and transfer the ownership of cultural property.” In the case of that submission, which was rejected because Davies did not like the fact that it related to an excavation by the “occupier” in an “occupied territory”, he did not seem to comprehend that the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict actually enjoins such salvage excavations as an obligation.

When the rejected group of Israelis turned to the Germans for explanation, they, too, were surprised. Apparently, the board of the DPV realized that that the rejection letters were sent without their approval being sought in each case, although they went out in the joint names of Davies and the editor of ZDPV . The German board was evidently angered by the actions of Davies and promptly pulled out of the conference leaving the PEF chairman no option but to follow suit.

So a golden opportunity to illuminate important chapters in the history of Levantine archaeology was missed thanks to the strident anti-Israeli bias of the PEF chairman.

In archaeology, as in life, there is one important rule: If you are in a hole, stop digging! The entire shameful episode could have been long forgotten, but the PEF chairman continued to dig a deeper hole for himself. He published his distorted version of the events and implicitly blamed the Israelis for the cancellation of the conference. In this objectionable editorial, he went on to argue that the PEF should abandon its unwritten rule not to deal with historical topics post 1917, in other words, to allow current political issues to seep into the activities of the PEF.

Since the time of Galileo, science and politics have not been compatible. If Philip Davies wants to change the mission of the journal from strictly scientific to one that indulges in political issues, sooner or later he must realize he does injustice to both. As a scientific journal, PEQ will be widely regarded as fatally compromised by its political dimension.

Moreover, if PEQ does become tainted with politics, the harm to archaeology will be twofold:

1) The journal will lose submission of good quality articles and therefore lose subscribers and its time-honored reputation for scientific scholarship.

2) The abandonment of PEQ to political discourse will only make it harder for archaeologists to publish their findings in the remaining quality archaeological journals.

“Neutrality, especially in contemporary Palestine, is hardly possible”, according to Davies. Is it indeed? The American Institute of Archaeology and the American Schools of Oriental Research do an excellent job, as does the DPV, without meddling in unnecessary political agendas. Why can’t the PEF continue to heed the warning of its founders to stick to inductive inquiry and steer well clear of religious and political controversy?

Comments (21)

We are all familiar with Philip Davies anti-Israeli attitude. This is not new at all. His behavior is ridiculous and bizarre. I will suggest banning PEQ till Mr Davis will be replaced.
#1 - Robert Deutsch - 07/13/2017 - 18:00

I suppose that an archaeological investigation conducted by people who have the strongest or even the strangest political convictions might be conducted with the utmost objectivity and might produce important scientific results, never mind politics. But I don't think that this possibility is enough to overcome the fact that it is wrong to conduct scientific, even the most genuinely scientific, research in a fashion contrary to Unesco rules. There needs to be an institution like Unesco to set some rules for these matters. There's a limit to what one can say without access to Davies' article. I suppose I should admit, having said that, to a slight acquaintance with Professor Davies and to the conviction that he is a man of honour.
#2 - Martin Hughes - 07/13/2017 - 19:35

Dr. Arav thank you for your clear vision not contaminated by any theology or politics. A breath of fresh air.
Mr. Hughes might want to actually research UNESCO to find they are anti Israel, have no legal binding authority, and were created by non academic haters.
#3 - Michelle Byrnes - 07/13/2017 - 22:00

Thank you Rami for bringing it to us all and for standing firm against such an outrage mainly due to the fact that the PEQ is a well familiar journal in our field.
I was rather shocked to read the half-trues by Prof. Davies if to believe my colleagues and the official respond by the IAA. In many ways it is for the better that the real face was exposed and not hidden anymore behind curtains of politically correctness. It seems to me like a good old colonial statement.
"Jewish excavations"? Where do these take place? Being a bit familiar with the excavation policies in Israel and the preference of so many new foreign delegations to work In Israel under a their own permit issued by the IAA, I must say things are rather the opposite as being portraited by Davies.
Perhaps odd to mention that in December 2015 our Institute at Haifa sponsored a conference dedicated to the PEF and their early pioneer work in the Land of Israel.
Now, I must go back to my Jewish small dig.
#4 - Michael Eisenberg - 07/14/2017 - 20:11

Dr. Arav has outlined some very important issues.

He accurately explained why politicizing archaeology makes no sense. Even more absurd: international organizations like the UN denying the Jewish heritage of historical area. Take, for example the recent biased UN Security Council resolution that, in effect, declared "non-existent" the Jewish heritage of the Kotel (The Western Wall at the base of the Temple Mount).

More recently, UNESCO claimed the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron to be a “Palestinian historical site.” The anti-Semitic edict overlooked the lengthy Jewish history at that location. For over 2,000 years, believers have traveled to the declared home of the Jewish Tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah and prayed at the site.

These UN efforts are outrageous; furthermore, the Davies essay discredits the study of archaeology, itself. In effect, these actions turn History upside down.

This politicization has got to stop?
#5 - Gary Javitch - 07/15/2017 - 17:26

I still think that the principles of a) having an international authority setting rules for 'human heritage' matters b) sticking to those rules c) accepting that one must be patient about making scientific discoveries in circumstances where there is dispute as to ownership of something vital to the enquiry are all good principles. It is like other disputes as to constitutional government: it is better, if the rules are wrong, to argue for a change in the rules, arguing for as long as it takes against whatever consensus supports them, rather than to defy them here and now. I
don't think that the question should
be widened to include other Unesco
decisions. I think that the principles I mention would command very wide consent in most circumstances.
#6 - Martin Hughes - 07/16/2017 - 11:33

In recent years UNESCO has proven to be a complete farce, a political tool of the OIC and supporting members of the Non Aligned Countries. Those that cite UNESCO are either shockingly naive and unaware or massive disingenuous hypocrites. As far as "East Jerusalem," the name Jordan suddenly gave to the thousands year old historic part of Jerusalem when it illegally seized that part of the city, its interesting that those supporting Davies consider it alright for Jordan to cleanse the long majority Jewish inhabitants of that part of the Jewish established city (and Jewish capital), and it's alright for Jordan to destroy several dozens of synagogues and tens of thousands of historic gravestones (that they used to build latrines), but when Israel conducts any excavations they are accused of changing the makeup of this portion of Jerusalem. Additionally, these same people said nothing when Jordan destroyed many many tons of ancient artifacts in digs that were intended to erase historical artifacts and evidence of the First Temple.
#7 - David Berkson - 07/18/2017 - 10:39

I beg to disagree Mr Hughes. UNESCO has totally and completely discredited itself by passing anti-Jewish resolutions thereby denying 1000's of years undisputed history. There is no merit in your suggestion that despite having no credibility we should abide by their rules and guidelines. On the other hand the IAA has proved itself to be a honest and trustworthy authority that treats all historical sites with equal respect and care, regardless if Jewish, Christian, Arab or of any other people or religion. Their policies are transparent and correct and they work closely with all and any international scientific or archaeological research body and should be allowed to continue regulating all research that is undertaken in Israel.
#8 - Alan Mevaker - 07/18/2017 - 14:19

Unfortunately, UNESCO has been so politicized by the Arab block as to render it both ridiculous and useless. There is a thing called history: certain things actually happened. After that, all in interpretation, often subject to small and non-objective minds.
#9 - Michael Mulcahy - 07/18/2017 - 14:42

Richard Davies categorizes the Balfour Declaration as “the most momentous event in the history of 20th century Palestine.” As the Balfour Declaration is entirely meaningless as a legal document, its issuance can hardly be considered momentous at all. Furthermore, modern Zionism as a political force was established approximately twenty years prior to the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, so its issuance, while a success of Zionism, had nothing to do with the creation or continuance of modern political Zionism, and therefore again, the Balfour Declaration was not “momentous.”

What was momentous, at least from the standpoint of international law, was the San Remo Resolution of April 1920. In that resolution, made by the Principal Allied Powers, the victors of WW I and therefore the ones who had the lawful right to determine the status of the lands they had won in WWI, the rights of the Jewish people in international law to reconstitute their homeland were established. The Mandate for Palestine put into practical effect the San Remo Resolution by establishing a trusteeship under the supervision of Great Britain to implement the Jewish homeland undertaking established in international law by the San Remo Resolution, such Resolution being reaffirmed unanimously by the League of Nations upon granting the Mandate to Great Britain.

Contrary to an ocean of misinformation (or outright lies) the right of the Jews to reconstitute their homeland, as established in the San Remo Resolution and as put into practical administrative form in the Mandate for Palestine remains fully in effect today. The borders of the area for the Jewish homeland as roughly established in the Mandate encompass today what is Jordan, Israel and the territories Israel captured in June 1967. In an amendment to the Mandate made a few months after its signing, the Jewish homeland provisions in the Mandate were postponed or withheld regarding the area now know as Jordan.

Since the Mandate was an undertaking of the League of Nations, which ceased operating in 1946, and since Great Britain resigned as Mandatory in May 1948, a question arises, were the terms of the Mandate still international law when Israel declared its independence effective the day after Great Britain resigned as Mandatory. The answer on both accounts is yes. The Charter of the United Nations in its Article 80 explicitly continues the Mandatories or trusts established by the League of Nations as obligations of the United Nations. The resignation of Great Britain is entirely irrelevant, a trust survives the resignation of the trustee.

The Jewish Homeland provisions of the San Remo Resolution continue today unabated in international law. Leaving aside the question of Jordan, the Jewish Homeland provisions fully apply to all lands west of the Jordan River. The fact that Jordan and Egypt illegally seized some of this land in Israel’s War of Independence, does not alter their legal status as part of the Jewish homeland. In 1948/1949 Israel, as successor to the Jewish Agency, the Jewish component of the Mandate’s mechanism to establish a Jewish homeland, realized the Jewish home provisions of the Mandate in all areas west of the Jordan River except for Gaza, the Golan, Jerusalem and the heartland of historical Israel, the administrative areas called from Biblical times to the 20th century Judea and Samaria (Yehuda and Shomron.) In 1967 Israel succeeded in establishing control over these areas. In doing so Israel’s actions were to realize international law, as these areas were designated to be part of the Jewish home since the San Remo Resolution.
#10 - Michael Chenkin - 07/18/2017 - 15:09

What might Mr Davies and Mr Hughes think of the Waqf's completely non-Jewish excavation of the Temple Mount where they used construction equipment to move tons of earth without any concern for the destruction they caused?
#11 - j klein - 07/18/2017 - 17:01

I object to Rami Arav’s attack on Philip Davies’ editorial in the recent issue of the PEQ. Already in his title, Arav defines the readers’ choices: “Science or Politics?”, with the implied assertion that Philip’s concerns about the PEF’s policy of political neutrality, within the increasingly conflicted context of the history of Palestine since the Mandate Period, not only undermines the PEF’s scholarly integrity, but, through a deceptive manipulation, is, in fact, to be understood as, itself, a politicization of scholarship! The politics of “Neutrality” deceptively is transformed to the scholarly objectivity, which marks the height of scholarly integrity.
However, Philip’s editorial, as I read it with Philip’s title—“The PEF and the Perils of Neutrality”—addresses its question to the complex difficulties, which the PEF’s policy of political neutrality, brings! That is, Philip has written his editorial in order to discuss the political policy of the PEF’s neutrality in regard to the horrific history of post-mandate Palestine, involving massive destruction of its indigenous population. In a time, in which we are becoming more aware of the last 70 years of Palestine’s ethnic cleansing and the current “incremental genocide” of Israel’s current policies, regarding the control of Gaza, we are becoming more aware of the cost of academic scholarships’ all too willing political policies of neutrality!
Philip, as I read his essay, is suggesting, in a very modest and balanced way, that we reconsider our past policies of political neutrality and begin to orient our scholarship in such a way as to take consideration of the damage such a policy of neutrality brings with it. We need to reject such a politically bankrupt policy and begin to deal with Palestine from within the brutal context of Palestine, which exists today. We do not need neutrality, but rather truthfulness and scholarly objectivity in our history: elements of archaeological and historical scholarship, which are often absent because of our politically motivated neutrality.
Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen
#12 - Thomas L. Thompson - 07/18/2017 - 21:43

So Mr. Thompson, If I Understand what you are saying, your answer to "science or politics" is: politics
#13 - Avi Boham - 07/19/2017 - 11:19

Thank you, Prof. Arav for your academic and polite article but, let's face it, Philip Davies seems to have a problem with Jews. His language about "Jewish excavations" that have a "Jewish purpose" is reminiscent of 1930’s Germany. But this is nothing new from Davies. When I interviewed him in 2005, he referred to Orthodox Jews by making hand gestures imitating their payot sidelocks. Also, he has always tried to deny the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. When the "House of David" inscription was found in Tel Dan by Prof. Avraham Biran (1993), Davies suggested that the word "David", in the inscription, should be read "uncle"... a kind of ancient "Man from Uncle" inscription. Then, he even had the gall to suggest that this artifact - which was found in situ - might be a forgery. After all, it was found by Jews. Now, he hides his venom behind UNESCO's rulings. Davies and UNESCO deserve each other. UNESCO also spends its time obsessively trying to deny the connection between the Jewish people and its ancient homeland.

Let's face it, Davies is a man who's made a career out of being a naysayer when it comes to the archaeology of the land of Israel and the Jewish people. We've seen this before Davies and we'll see it again. If he talked like this about any people, other than the Jews, he would be run out of academia. But, take heart, Prof. Arav; when Davies is an archaeological artifact, himself, there will still be Jews in Israel, working with non-Jewish academics of all persuasions, digging up the incredible history of this ancient land.
#14 - Simcha Jacobovici - 07/19/2017 - 21:10

While the Muslim Wakf was willfully destroying Jewish antiquities and others on the Temple Mount, where was Philip Davies and the PEF? Where was their outrage? They only turned their backs and ignored the destruction. As Davies says, it was only "Jewish" artifacts. Fortunately, Gabi Barkai and other prominent Israeli archeologists were able to save some of these artifacts which enrich our culture and help us understand our past.
#15 - Steven Sherman - 07/20/2017 - 11:13

Dear Mr. Avi Bohem,
No, I do not prefer politics to science. I rather suggested that Philip's article is misread and made to say the opposite of what it argues. In Philip's article, problems are raised in regard to the PEF's POLITICAL policy of neutrality. What is important in regard to scholarship, however, is that the readers of read the argument that Philip actually presents in his PEF editorial, rather than the distortions offered to this forum.

Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen
#16 - Thomas L. Thompson - 07/20/2017 - 11:59

Simcha Jacobovici writes: 'let's face it, Philip Davies seems to have a problem with Jews. His language about "Jewish excavations" that have a "Jewish purpose" is reminiscent of 1930’s Germany.'

This is an outrage and slander! What Philip in fact writes is: "... recent Jewish excavations in Jerusalem were therefore declined", without the least trace of Nazism. Let's get back to issues of the truth and integrity of scholarship, which was Philip's actual topic after all.
Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen
#17 - Thomas L. Thompson - 07/20/2017 - 12:21

Dear Prof. Davies, editor of the PEQ,
My name is Christopher Abdullah-Cohen, an archaeologist. My biological father is Moslem and my biological mother is Jewish, therefore I am considered as Moslem by the Moslem law and Jewish by the Jewish law. When I was a child I was adopted by a nice couple, she is vegan and pagan, while he is nudist and Marxist. As for my personal identity, on the even days of the week I feel very Jewish, whereas on the odd days I feel quite non-Jewish, and my aspirations change accordingly.
I am conducting an archaeological excavation in Jerusalem, in what was until 1967 the buffer zone between Israel and Jordan and now is occupied by Israel. I have discovered remains of prehistorical times, that are neither Jewish, nor non-Jewish. I was wondering if you would accept my paper to your conference? And what has UNESCO, the Waqf, pope, chief rabbi, and Ziggi Stardust to say on the matter?
Sincerely (though not honestly)
The confused
#18 - Dr. Adi Erlich, University of haifa - 07/20/2017 - 18:50

What is an “outrage” is Thomas L. Thompson’s lifelong work to turn Jewish history and its roots in the land of Israel into a “myth”. What is “slander” is to declare that “neutrality” is not a proper approach to scholarship in Israel. Rather, we should substitute academic objectivity with a political program that “deal[s] with Palestine from within the brutal context of Palestine.” In other words, academics should conduct archaeology that’s pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Using “newspeak”, Thompson calls the departure from neutrality towards active pro-Palestinian propagandizing “scholarly objectivity”. But despite the fact that he’s a hit in Ramallah and in BDS circles, we won’t fall for Thomson’s Orwellian agenda, nor for his defense of Philip Davies’ inflammatory language. “Truth and integrity of scholarship” are the opposite of anti-Israel, pseudo-scholarship.
#19 - Simcha Jacobovici - 07/20/2017 - 22:25

In responding to Martin Hughes and Thomas Thompson I would say the following:
Some responses have made it clear that UNESCO is not the appropriate forum to advise sovereign nations how to manage their own Heritage assets. UNESCO has set a poor or non-existent moral example during the civil wars in Syria and Iraq and has repeatedly demonstrated that this organization does not live up to the standards which it proclaims.
Moreover, from the legal point of view UNESCO has no juridical power over states. Their rules and resolutions, apart from demonstrating consistent bias, with a built-in anti-Israel majority, have no legal value. A vivid example was recently published. A short time after ISIS blew up Mosul’s historic mosque and minaret, built by Seljuk Nur a-Din Al Zangi Atabeg in 1172, and turned it to dust, UNESCO ignored that act of cultural vandalism and instead busied itself with a resolution that the ancient monument of Makhpela in Hebron, built by the Jewish king Herod the Great, on the alleged tomb of the Israelites ancestor, is in danger. The nature of the danger was not specified, the proposers of the resolution knowing full well that this monument enjoys much respect and round-the-clock protection.
Legally it is impossible to impose rules or resolutions on states that have not signed a contract to abide by those decisions. This is a fact known by all.
So what counts? Only conventions and agreements endorsed by countries to abide by their provisions, carry weight. Israel, together with most of countries in the world, have signed the Geneva Conventions. Now, reading carefully these conventions will reveal that countries are obliged to conduct salvage excavations in occupied territories, in order to save them from destruction or serious damage. This requirement is meticulously complied with by the State of Israel through its agency the Israel Antiquities Authority. I know it first hand and I can testify that this is the policy of IAA.
Thomas Thompson
I will defend Thomas Thompson’s right to voice his opinion. However, the issue is not whether Thomas Thompson and Philip Davies have the right to express any political opinion no matter how wrong they are. The question is why usurp an archaeological journal for this purpose? There are just a few academic printed journals in which archaeologists can publish the results of their painstaking research. Sometimes articles wait years to be published.
The Board of Trustees of the PEF have the right to change the policy of that learned society but, enjoying the status of a registered UK charity, the PEF cannot be turned into a political platform of any persuasion. As a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of PEQ it is my duty to ensure that it remains true to its existing constitution. I trust that my fellow members of the Board will also exercise the same responsibility.
I am waiting to see whether the Board of Trustees of the PEF, wishes to subvert its stated mission and the editorial policy of the journal to suit the views of Philip Davies and Thomas Thompson, or like ASOR, AIA, DPV and others, remain anchored in the spirit of scientific enquiry, as stipulated by the founding fathers of the PEF, and keep out of politics. Politics and science do not go hand in hand.
#20 - Rami Arav - 07/21/2017 - 07:09

I don't think that anyone has even opposed, let alone refuted, the general points I made. It is plainly better to have an international standard in these things, defined by an international agency, than an unconnected series of national standards and decisions.
This point is not affected by the lack of legal enforceability of the international authority's decision - it is still better that an international authority exist and be respected. The point is not affected by any decision of the victors of WW1, who did not claim and could not have had authority for the future direction of scientific research.
It is clear that scientific information should be pursued within the ethical standards set by (if the matter is of more than local concern) political processes. This is all but universally agreed. It would be rather odd to describe this as the priority of politics
over science. If you insist on those terms this would be a fully justified and generally agreed form of priority.
It follows from the idea of ethical standards for science that there may have to be patience in gathering information in certain circumstances. If authorities were not allowed to make mistakes there would be no authorities in any matter.
I was asked about certain Waqf activities. For what it's worth I thought they were rather a bad idea, though I'm not sure they fell under quite the same argument.
I think that Professor Thompson is quite right to argue, if I understand him aright, that where scientific investigations intervene on an ethical dispute that is a reason for airing rather than concealing the dispute concerned.
I may not be neutral in the relevant dispute but I do think that I am presenting a neutral argument, one not depending on any political point or on saying bad things about anyone.
#21 - Martin Hughes - 07/21/2017 - 19:59

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