"What is happening is simple: They're going to build a large complex, the antiquities authority found graves while excavating, and at a lower level they also found graves from the Second Temple period. In the past there was a city here and people were buried here. There was also a Jewish settlement, but even if they are not Jewish, it is prohibited to dig under a Muslim cemetery - it's not humane."
Haredim Threaten Riots Over Ashkelon Building Complex
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The haredi organization Atra Kadisha that serves as the self-appointed protector of gravesites in Israel has threatened to protest on a scale that would rival the massive riots staged over the construction of a specially hardened underground emergency room at Barzilai Hospital in 2010, unless construction at a new combined public, commercial and residential project in the southern coastal city is immediately halted, Ha'aretz reported.
The protests and riots against the Barzilai construction, combined with delays added by Israel’s haredi “Deputy” Health Minister Ya’akov Litzman (there is no actual Health Minister, the title of Deputy Health Minister is a legal fiction that allows Litzman to avoid voting on security issues in cabinet meetings), who was coopering with Atra Kadisha, delayed construction of the missile-protected E.R. by years, endangering tens of thousands of Israelis.
Atra Kadisha claims that graves have been removed from the new combined public, commercial and residential project site and vowed to fight the project "like we fought the Barzilai hospital.”
On Thursday, an Atra Kadisha representative visiting the site found out that the Israel Antiquities Authority was conducting a pre-construction rescue dig – a very common practice in Israel, where almost every piece of new construction potentially uncovers a piece of history. It sent representatives to inspect the new construction site Sunday and demanded entry. They were refused.
Work on the project only began about a month ago. The massive new complex – if it is ever built – will include a new city hall, a performing arts center, a central plaza, an office tower, 26,247 square foot commercial center, and 200 apartments.
"What is happening is simple: They're going to build a large complex, the antiquities authority found graves while excavating, and at a lower level they also found graves from the Second Temple period. In the past there was a city here and people were buried here. There was also a Jewish settlement, but even if they are not Jewish, it is prohibited to dig under a Muslim cemetery - it's not humane," Atra Kadisha volunteer Haim Friedman told Ha’aretz.
Halakha, Jewish law, does allow graves to be respectfully relocated under certain circumstances usually involving a greater public need or good. In the past, that halakha has been invoked to move graves found in the construction of at least one haredi yeshiva. The law prohibiting desecration of graves generally does not apply to the graves of idolators, so if graves actually were found and they were Philistine or Canaanite, both idol worshipping groups, the law would not apply and the graves could be moved.
But in the past, haredim have rioted over archaeological excavations of Canaanite and other polytheistic graves, insisting that despite the presence of non-Israelite pottery, non-Israelite burial practices, and even idols that the graves are, in fact, of Jews. In some cases, graves of prehistoric people dating back several thousand years before the Jewish people even existed have been claimed by haredim as “Jewish” graves.
This, coupled with decades of threats – which have sometimes turned violent – against archaeologists by haredim make archaeologists view Atra Kadisha and other haredi groups with a large dose of suspicion, and they have learned to react to haredi threats with caution.
"The authority is carrying out excavations to save antiquities before building the Ashkelon municipality [complex], and the results of the excavations will be published on their completion,” was all a spokesperson for the Israel Antiquities Authority would say when Ha’aretz asked about the haredi demand.