Archaeologists in Israel are feeling more and more besieged as they face increasingly violent attacks from the ultra-Orthodox community as well as government interference in their work.
Many archaeologists say their field is in crisis. Employees of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) are routinely harassed at work and at home. Violence against IAA workers is not a new problem, but it appears to be increasing.
Members of Atra Kadisha, a group of self-appointed preservers of grave sites who are part of the ruling council of an anti-Zionista religious community, have often come to blows with IAA archaeologists, several of whom have been hospitalized after encounters with them. The Authority’s cars have been torched, and excavation sites have been damaged.
Amir Drori, director of the IAA, regularly receives death threats to himself and his family. An explosive device was placed in front of his home, and he is the object of a permanent pulsa denura—a rabbinical curse that says he “deserves to die.” Ultra-Orthodox activists claim that a similar curse brought on the illness that ended the life of archaeologist Yigal Shiloh, who died in 1987, at age 50, while excavating Jerusalem’s City of David.