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Israel Supreme Court says West Bank archaeological digs can remain secret

Israeli workers conduct an excavation work the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on 28 February 2018 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]
Israeli workers conduct an excavation work the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on 28 February 2018 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Israel's top court has ruled that details about archaeological digs in the occupied West Bank may remain secret, reported Haaretz, rejecting an appeal by two NGOs.

The Supreme Court's decision upholds the state's position, as well as a lower court ruling; the state had argued that "releasing the names of the archaeologists carrying out the digs would make them vulnerable to academic boycotts", the paper explained.

The state also argued that

releasing the location of the digs could undermine Israel's position in future diplomatic negotiations.

The two NGOs who took the state to court, Yesh Din and Emek Shaveh, are seeking to make public information about digs carried out under the auspices of the Israeli occupation authorities – the so-called Civil Administration – in the West Bank.

Details being sought include the location of digs, "the names of the archaeologists conducting them and details of any findings loaned to museums, research institutes or exhibits".

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As highlighted by Haaretz, "under the 1954 Hague Convention, an occupying power is forbidden to remove archaeological findings from occupied territory".

In the court's majority opinion, the justices "accepted the state's position in full".

"There's a clear and genuine fear that publishing the names of the archaeologists…could cause concrete damage to their professional and financial interests, as well as those of the institutions with which they are affiliated," Yosef Elron wrote.

"Publishing the archaeologists' names exposes them to academic boycotts in a manner that could genuinely damage their research work and their academic futures."

Elron additionally "stated that publishing their names could limit their ability to publish their research in international journals, give lectures, participate in academic conferences, cooperate with colleagues and volunteers from other countries, obtain stipends and research grants, and participate in programs at academic institutions overseas."

Another argument of the state accepted by the court was that revealing the site of the digs would undermine Israel's foreign relations in various ways, including "undermining its interests in the framework of future negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and could even serve as a tool of attack for parties that seek to harm Israel in the international arena".

Emek Shaveh said it had wanted the court to order the state "to apply the academic standards accepted in Israel and worldwide to the West Bank as well".

"Ultimately, this decision says that under current circumstances, even basic academic standards are superfluous, and continued Israeli rule over the West Bank requires maintaining two different legal systems under the same government, even in academia."

READ: Everything you want to know about Al-Rahma Gate and the construction of a temple in Al-Aqsa

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