A small group of archaeologists is hoping to make a difference in one of the world’s most divisive conflicts. At a private gathering in Jerusalem yesterday, Israeli academics proposed a plan for divvying up antiquities and control of religious sites between Israel and Palestine when–and if–peace is ever achieved. The idea is to ease political negotiations by taking the controversial issue off the table. But some just learning of the plan are skeptical it will succeed where past efforts have failed.
At issue is control of archaeological sites and material. Since the 1967 War, Israelis have excavated extensively in the West Bank, removing artifacts to storage facilities controlled by the Israeli government. If a Palestinian state is ever created, the question is whether some or all of that material would be repatriated. For the past 5 years, Lynn Dodd and Ran Boytner, archaeologists at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, respectively, have worked on the plan in near secrecy, conferring with a small team of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists. The two sides have never before “sat down to achieve a structured, balanced agreement to govern the region’s archaeological heritage,” says Dodd. “Our group got together with the vision of a future when people wouldn’t be at each other’s throats, and archaeology would need to be protected irrespective of which side of the border it falls on.”
The plan calls for a protective “Heritage Zone” around the oldest part of Jerusalem, extending to the city’s 10th century boundaries during the Crusades.