Right-wing NGO funding Tel Aviv University dig in East Jerusalem

By Nir Hasson | Haaretz | 18 juin 2013 |

The university claims it is working only with the government, but documents show it knows the Elad organization is funding the City of David dig and paying the salary of the researcher leading it.

A right-wing nonprofit organization is indirectly paying the salary of a Tel Aviv University researcher heading an archeological dig in East Jerusalem.

The Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University began the dig about six months ago in the City of David National Park in the predominately Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.

The dig aroused widespread protest against the university, which was accused of working with Elad, an organization that runs the national park and is involved in efforts to settle Jews in Silwan.

Tel Aviv University claims the dig and associated research are being carried out in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, without any connection to Elad.

But documents obtained by Haaretz indicate that Elad initiated the dig, has been involved with it from the start with the university’s knowledge and is even paying the salary of Yuval Gadot, an archeologist from the university who was appointed to head the dig.

A summary of a meeting held prior to the dig in November 2012 show that Gadot; David Be’eri, the director of Elad, and officials from the Antiquities Authority were in attendance. At the meeting, Elad was apparently given a defined financial role in the dig going forward.

« Logistics, mechanical tools and laborers are the responsibility of Elad, » the summary says.

Additionally, an agreement between the Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University commits the authority to pay Gadot’s salary of NIS 23,000 per month for the dig.

« The university has no connection and no contact with Elad. As far as we’re concerned, the budget of the government authority comes from the state budget, » Tel Aviv University told Haaretz. »

But the entire excavation budget, like the budget for all the excavations in the City of David, comes directly from Elad, in accordance with an agreement between it and the Antiquities Authority. In the agreement signed between Elad and the authority prior to the start of the dig, Elad promised to pay NIS 385,000 for a 40-day exploratory dig. Since then, Elad has continued to fund the dig on a regular basis.

« Any group that excavates in Silwan, even if it presumes to present its activity as apolitical, is part of the settlers’ battle to strengthen their hold in East Jerusalem, » said Yoni Mizrahi of the left-wing archeologists’ organization Emek Shaveh, which opposes Elad’s activities. « Tel Aviv University’s pretense of offering a different archaeology turned out to be another dig in cooperation with Elad. It’s regrettable that an institution like TAU denied for so many months what everyone knew: Their decision to cooperate with the settlers in East Jerusalem. One provides the funding, and the other its academic and professional status. »

Tel Aviv University wrote to Haaretz in response: « The university signed an agreement with the Antiquities Authority, which is a government authority, regarding the archaeological dig in the City of David. The agreement is only with the abovementioned government authority. The initiative for the dig, its administration and the analysis of its findings are exclusive to researchers from TAU. The university has no connection and no contact with Elad. As far as we’re concerned, the budget of the government authority comes from the state budget. »

Elad wrote in response: « Elad operates and develops the City of David tourism site. Among other things, Elad participates in the cost of the archaeological excavations carried out under the administration and supervision of the AA. Elad is not a party to the relations between the AA and the university, and has no status regarding the excavation licenses granted by the AA to the various archaeologists. Tel Aviv University researcher Yuval Gadot has a license to excavate in part of the site, and Elad does not interfere in his work or in that of any researcher. Elad will gladly continue to cooperate with any group whose objective is to promote archaeological research all over ancient Jerusalem. »

Yuval Gadot declined to respond.