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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Archaeologists Work Toward Peace in Middle East

A coalition of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists, led by Lynn Dodd of the University of Southern California and Ran Boytner of UCLA, has drafted a plan to negotiate rights to the numerous historical and religious artifacts that have been found in the Middle East. "Israelis and Palestinians never previously had sat down to achieve a structured, balanced agreement to govern the region's archaeological heritage," Dodd, a lecturer of religion and curator of USC's Archaeological Research Collection, said in a press release. "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 Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group Agreement, which was recently presented to more than 200 Israeli archaeologists earlier this month, calls for the repatriation of thousands of artifacts to the regions in which they were originally found and a continued effort to protect current digging sites from destruction. The agreement could require major concessions on the part of Israel, as tens of thousands of artifacts and several key archaeological sites, including Qumran, Samaria, and Mount Ibal, located in what are now Israeli territories, would likely fall under Palestinian jurisdiction. Yet, despite these and other possible complications, the coalition remains optimistic that the agreement will ultimately stabilize efforts to preserve each culture's heritage, and possibly the peace process itself. "According to international law, if there is a future Palestinian state, the Israelis will have to return all archaeological artifacts to the Palestinian state," said the Israeli-born Boytner, director of international research at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA. "Therefore, archaeology could be a deal-breaker in future peace negotiations. But if we can deal with archaeology, we can help create a stable peace process that will be respected by both sides for years to come." —Stephen Mapes