World Archaeological Congress Speaks Out on Palestine

The Eighth World Archaeological Congress (WAC-8) recently published a resolution it adopted in Kyoto earlier this year pertaining to Palestine. More than 1,600 colleagues coming from 83 countries participated in the Congress.

Resolution 13: Archaeology and Cultural Heritage in the Palestinian Occupied TerritoriesProposed at WAC-8 by Koji Mizoguchi, Akram Ijla, Ghattas Sayej, Chemi Shiff and Brian Boyd

 It is unethical for Professional Archaeologists and academic institutions to conduct professional archaeological work and excavations in occupied areas possessed by force”.

Resolution 9, passed at the WAC-7, Jordan, 2013.

Since its inception and foundation thirty years ago, the World Archaeological Congress has been proactive in the protection of basic human rights and the promotion of social justice. Palestine-Israel issues, largely caused by the latter’s occupation of the domain of the Palestinian Authority, and recognized as illegal by the United Nations, have been an important agendum for the WAC, and some important resolutions concerning the issues have been discussed and passed by the plenary and adopted as WAC International Congress resolutions (see above citation).

The current political circumstances in the region do not show any sign of immediate amelioration, and the on-the-ground situations relating to the occupation are worsening. As archaeologists and cultural heritage professionals, we cannot overlook the ongoing and relentless erosion of cultural heritage that is happening on a daily basis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We need to take a position on the destruction of the material evidence of human history, and the places and the sources of the self-identification of those who live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Deep cultural connections to this history form an essential element of human well-being, and hence, are a vital component of basic human rights.

[Note: WAC affirms that nothing in the present proposal/resolution, which aims at the safeguarding of the archaeology and cultural heritage of Palestine and the distinctive character of East Jerusalem, shall in any way affect the relevant Security Council and United Nations resolutions and decisions on the legal status of Palestine and Jerusalem. *See below footnote for details.]

Points relating to ongoing Israeli archaeological activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

  1. WAC regrets the refusal of the Israeli (archaeological/academic) authorities/institutions to implement UNESCO decisions concerning Jerusalem, and the decisions aiming at protecting cultural heritage in the Occupied Territories in the West Bank and Gaza;
  1. WAC condemns the ongoing archaeological excavations in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City, and reiterates its request to Israeli institutions and organisations to prohibit all such work in line with the UNESCO and UN human rights decisions.
  1. WAC calls on the relevant Israeli archaeological/academic authorities and institutions to allow the restoration of the historic status quo that prevailed until September 2000, under which the Jordanian Awqaf (Religious Foundation) Department exercised exclusive authority on Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif, and its mandate extended to all affairs relating to the unimpeded administration of Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif, including maintenance, restoration, and regulating access. At the same timeWAC encourages the Awqf to respect the parallel sanctity of the site for Muslims, Jews and Christians and to avoid the demolition of all archeological remains in the area under its jurisdiction.
  1. WAC regards as unfortunate the Israeli decision to approve a plan to build a two-line cable car system in East Jerusalem and the so called “Liba House” project in the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as the construction of the so called “Kedem Center”, a visitor center near the southern wall of the Mosque, the construction of the Strauss Building and the project of the elevator in the Western Wall/Al Buraq Plaza and urges Israel to renounce the above-mentioned projects and to stop the construction works in conformity with its obligations under the relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions; 
  1. WAC Further expresses its deep concern regarding the illegal demolitions of Ummayyad, Ottoman and Mamluk remains as well as other intrusive works and excavations in and around the Mughrabi Gate Pathway, and also requests Israel to halt such demolitions, excavations and works and to abide by its obligations under the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954;
  1. WAC strongly opposes the illegal Israeli archaeological excavations, and the construction of private roads for settlers and the separation wall inside the Old City of Al-Khalīl/Hebron, Nablus, Salfit, and Bethlehem that harmfully affect the integrity of the sites, and the concomitant restrictions on freedom of movement, and freedom of access to heritage places of worship. WAC urges Israel to end these violations in compliance with provisions of relevant UNESCO conventions, resolutions and decisions;
  1. WAC deeply regrets Israel’s refusal to comply with UN and UNESCO, both of which requested the Israeli authorities to protect cultural heritage sites in the occupied Palestinian territories from violent attacks and aggression, and calls on the Israeli authorities to act in accordance with international and UN decisions.


Recommendations from the WAC-8:

  • That Israel respects and follows international conventions by ceasing archaeological investigations in the West Bank, in violation of the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Hague Convention of 1954.
  • That Israel enforce the law regarding the legalized trade in antiquities. This will hinder looting and contribute positively to the protection of what remains of archaeological sites.
  • We encourage WAC to put pressure on international academic publishers to refuse to publish articles by Israeli and international scholars that relate to archaeological excavations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
  • We wish to encourage Palestinian and Israeli archaeologists to meet together, discuss their research, and share their opinions, either by participating in international conferences, or by conducting joint projects. We therefore request that the WAC acts as a mediator in the organisation of an archaeological conference in the region, where both Israeli and Palestinian colleagues can participate and enter into constructive dialogue.
  • Palestinian students and scholars require access to libraries and other academic resources in Jerusalem and other cities and towns in Israel and in the PT. Further, they must be permitted to participate in local, regional and international conferences and other academic meetings. Freedom of movement is a basic human right. We therefore urge Israel to facilitate free movement for the Palestinian academic community.

*Footnote: This proposed resolution is in line with, and allies itself to, the provisions of the four Geneva Conventions (1949) and their additional Protocols (1977); the 1907 Hague Regulations on Land Warfare; the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and its additional Protocols; the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970); the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972); the inscription of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls at the request of Jordan on the World Heritage List (1981); the List of World Heritage in Danger (1982); the recommendations, resolutions and decisions of UNESCO on the protection of cultural heritage, as well as resolutions and decisions of UNESCO relating to Jerusalem; UNESCO decisions related to the protection of archaeological sites and cultural heritage places of Gaza as well as UNESCO decisions on the two Palestinian sites in Al-Khalil/Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus, and in the West Bank.

Draft by:

Koji Mizoguchi (Kyushu University)

Akram Ijla (Uppsala University, Sweden)

Ghattas Sayej (Fylkeskonservatoren i Vest-Agder, Norway)

Chemi Schiff (Emek Shaveh; Tel Aviv University, Israel)

Brian Boyd (Columbia University, USA)