Israel’s archaeological war on Palestinian cultural heritage
Scattered along the unassuming beaches of Gaza, buried under the rubble and destruction of Israel’s bombs, lie several extraordinary archaeological sites dating all the way back to the Iron age.
Now, a new investigation by the research group Forensic Architecture details how Israel has deliberately targeted archaeological sites in the besieged Gaza strip in a blatant attack on Palestinian cultural heritage.
Over successive bombing campaigns, these sites along Gaza’s coastline, which include a Roman era fountain and an Iron Age rampart, are now facing an “existential threat”. Working with journalists, archaeologists and activists from Gaza and beyond, Forensic Architecture has collated a wide range of evidence to map and reconstruct these sites. It’s being called a pioneering form of “open source archaeology” and has the potential to be a significant tool in the fight against cultural erasure.
Indeed the Israeli regime has long attempted to erase and appropriate Palestinian cultural heritage as part of the Zionist settler colonial project. In order to establish a historical connection to the land and support its narrative of exclusive ownership to the land’s history, which is a crux of Israel's foundational ideology, erasing non Jewish heritage becomes crucial.
To do this, Israel has resorted to either destroying the existing heritage of Palestinians, or creating an entirely different and exclusive narrative around it.
As Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights NGO, explained in the context of Forensic Architecture’s report, “Targeting cultural heritage is not an empty gesture. Culture constitutes a visible expression of human identity. Depriving a people of their culture is tantamount to emptying them of the very substance that forms the backbone of their right to self-determination, especially in a context of cumulative, interconnected and systemic human rights violations.”
For all communities and national groups, cultural heritage is a tangible and physical link with the past. In its effort to erase a Palestinian past, past and present Israeli regimes have actively sought to disconnect Palestinians from their heritage. Zionist founding father, David Ben Gurion, is famously attributed as having said; “the old (Palestinians) will die and the young will forget”.
However, this has not been the case and Palestinians have rigorously sought to preserve their history despite the furious attempts to negate it.