TEL AVIV (Jul. 30)
Education Minister Yitzhak Navon has decided to recommend that the archaeological dig at Caesarea, halted by ultra-Orthodox religious zealots of the Atra Kadisha Society, which claims to protect Jewish graves, should be resumed.
After visiting the site Wednesday, Navon told Israel Radio “This is a scientific and national project of the highest priority and it’s impossible to allow it to stop.” He denied ultra-Orthodox claims that there was a Jewish cemetery at the site. “Had there been a cemetery, we would have taken definite steps to ensure that no Jewish graves were violated,” Navon said:
A team of about 50 American volunteers, headed by Prof. Robert Bull of Drew University in Madison, NJ, had been excavating at the site for six weeks and were to continue for another two weeks. They cut short their excavations last week when they were surrounded by three busloads of ultra-Orthodox Jews who accused them of desecrating the dead. The university, a Methodist affiliated institution, has also been under pressure from Orthodox groups in the U.S., headed by Rabbi Pinhas Teitz of Elizabeth, N.J., to halt the digging.
Rabbi Zeev Berlin, of Atra Kadisha, claimed that “There are dozens if not hundreds of ancient Jewish graves at the site of the excavation.” But Israel’s antiquities department, which licenses all archaeological diggings, sent inspectors to the site who concluded that it was not part of a Jewish cemetery but the site of a garbage dump dating back 100-150 years, on top of the Byzantine Christian area of Caesarea.
Navon told Israel Radio that he is asking Drew University to resume its excavations at the site.