BAR 38:05, Sep/Oct 2012
Violence Ramps Up Against Israel’s Archaeological Sites
Vandals spray-painted graffiti on the walls of the fourth-century C.E. synagogue at Hammath Tiberias in May and severely damaged its famous mosaic floor. Such acts of vandalism have occurred several times in Israel recently. And the suspects are always the same: members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community known as haredim. The chief rabbinate of Israel has condemned the vandalism.
For years haredi demonstrations have disrupted legal excavations, ostensibly to protest the desecration of Jewish burials. It is archaeological policy in Israel to treat the discovery of human remains respectfullya and to carefully rebury them elsewhere after excavation. Nonetheless some haredim often respond with destruction as they recently did at Hammath Tiberias—even though the synagogue had been excavated in the 1960s. Many of the mosaic tesserae were hacked up, including the panel depicting the Torah ark and menorahs. Mosaic Greek inscriptions were covered with spray paint, and graffiti sprayed on the walls. One read, “To Shuka the cannibal.” referring to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) director Shuka Dorfman. Another said, “for every tomb a[n archaeological] site, [there will be a] reaction for years [to come],” promising continued retribution.