Decoupling Archeology from Politics

by Razvan Sibii

Chaim Noy (DUO II, Abu Dis) is an “interdisciplinary scholar,” currently teaching Communication and Sociology courses at Sapir University in Jerusalem. One of those courses is “Intro to Israeli Society.” “The first part of it is functional and the second part is critical. The students don’t find it very easy to combine the two,” says Noy.

Chaim Noy has recently been asked to serve on the board of Emek Shaveh, an Israeli organization that brings together archeologists, human rights activists and Jerusalem residents. The organization strives to disengage archeology from politics – a particularly difficult endeavor in East Jerusalem, a town that hosts ancient Judaic, Christian and Islamic holy sites. At the present, Emek Shaveh is focusing its efforts on a particularly rich archeological site in the village of Silwan, near East Jerusalem’s Old City. The site, also known as “the City of David,” is being excavated by an Israeli right-wing organization, by permission of Jerusalem’s municipal authorities. Noy and his colleagues argue that this organization is using archeology to prove the historical precedence of Jews in the area – and hence justify Israel’s political dominance of Arab East Jerusalem. Enter Emek Shaveh,

Noy protesting in Sheikh Jarah

which offers alternative tours of the site (in collaboration with the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, a local Palestinian organization) and publicizes what it perceives to be an outrageous situation.

“What is nice about Emek Shaveh is that it combines a discourse of archeology with a humanist discourse,” says Noy. “All branches of anthropology have historically had an imperialistic bias, having been developed in Europe and North America. But cultural anthropology, for example, has really done a lot to look into itself and probe into the roots of the discipline. That introspection has been much delayed in archeology. Maybe this is because of all of those heroic images of Indiana Jones and other Western archeologists – who, of course, went to Northern Africa and the Far East and the Levant during the age of imperialism and throughout the two world wars and excavated and stole property. What Emek Shaveh is saying is archeology should not look for the ‘City of David’ itself [which would legitimize the Jewish nationalist claims to the area], but rather for all the different cultures that existed in the past on this site, leading up to the current one: the Palestinian culture.”

One of Noy’s objects of academic research is the discourse surrounding tourism. And in a place like Israel/Palestine, that discourse is inevitably intertwined with some political narrative or another. “I’m currently writing an academic piece about the social actors that are fighting over the tourist consciousness in Silwan,” says Noy. “And you know, we academics, we take things seriously when we write our articles. I’m putting a lot of effort into this, and I hope to publish it soon and bring my contribution in that way.” Another contribution that Noy brings to Emek Shaveh’s activities is joining periodical protests against the evacuation of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem. “I was born in Jerusalem, I live in Jerusalem. I feel that I cannot just sign a petition or express my opinion, but that I really should be active,” he says. “The Israelis are the occupiers here and we have a responsibility to protest. The idea is to make noise, to make a fuss. Who knows, maybe Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will hear about it… Or maybe people in Europe – or anyone, really!”

Chaim Noy’s name has recently been included on a so-called “Anti-Zionist list” by an Israeli organization called IsraCampus. Modeled after the American Campus Watch, IsraCampus seeks to identify and denounce what it calls “Israeli Academic ‘Post-Zionist’ extremists in Israel” who speak or write against Israel’s actions in the Palestinian territories.

“I don’t take such organizations too seriously,” says Noy. “They would say that all criticism leveled at Israel is anti-Israel and antisemite. Actually, sometimes I think this organization is a good thing – whenever I need to find people in the academia with a political perspective similar to mine, all I have to do is go to this organization’s website and look into their database! But seriously, there are so many fanatics here… I just disregard them completely.”

Emek Shaveh website:
Wadi Hilweh –

Photo caption: Chaim Noy protesting in the neighborhood of Sheik Jarah (January 2010)
Credit: Yonathan Mizrachi

One Response to “Decoupling Archeology from Politics”

  1. Noi That Van Phong Says:

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