Archaeology and occupation in NBC’s TV series ‘Dig’

Earlier this year, the American TV network NBC screened Dig, an action series set in Jerusalem. The series focuses on an FBI agent, Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) who is investigating the murder of an American archaeologist.

Mystery and adventure ensue, with the agent uncovering a cult and conspiracy that have seen the series compared (not exactly favourably) to Indiana Jones and the Da Vinci Code.

Dig, co-created by Gideon Raff, creator of the Israeli TV show Prisoners of War and its more internationally well-known American counterpart Homeland, caused controversy before it reached TV screens. Indeed, the levels of debate about the series before it was shown seem greater than the rather muted reception it received when finally aired.

Set and partly filmed in East Jerusalem, notably in the Israeli ‘City of David’ settlement, located in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, Dig prompted widespread protests from Palestinian civil rights organisations over its apparent normalisation of Israeli control and colonisation of a Palestinian area of the city.

The series was scheduled to be filmed in its entirety in East Jerusalem, but production was moved to the rather less authentic location of Albuquerque, New Mexico, following the Israel Defence Force’s launch of Operation Protective Edge in July 2014.

The series provoked further controversy over NBC’s receipt of a multi-million dollar grant from the Jerusalem municipality, designed to encourage filming in the city and to ‘help brand Jerusalem and the State of Israel in a positive light.’

Dig‘s themes, and the troubled process by which it came to our screens, highlight the longer associations between archaeology and colonisation, in Israel and elsewhere. As scholars such as Nadia Abu El-Haj, Nur Masalha and Keith Whitelam have noted, archaeological practice has contributed to the establishment of ‘facts on the ground’ which appear to naturalise contemporary Israel’s ‘ancient’ roots, and serve to strengthen Israeli territorial sovereignty today.

In this light Dig‘s tagline, ‘The deeper you dig, the further you get from the truth’, seems unintentionally apt.

Israeli archaeological interests have facilitated more direct violence against Palestinians, in demolitions, house takeovers and increased surveillance, as well as leading to the destruction of some non-Jewish archaeological sites.

The New Inquiry recently posted an excellent and wide-ranging review of Dig, written by Molly O. Taking in the politics of the series itself and of its production, its televisual context in earlier collaborations between Israeli and U.S. TV stations, and the role played by culture in Israeli ‘soft power’, the review also offers reflections on the wider stakes in representing Jerusalem. As O notes:

In addition to its narrative mystery, Dig’s mass appeal depends on its ability to produce an image of Jerusalem that posits the city as a potential site of social salvation.

Scholars on Twitter offered lighter thoughts on the series with the hashtag #ScholarsDig, calling out some of its archaeological inconsistencies (Assyrian square script on a breastplate, apparently, rather than paleo-Hebrew), the less convincing ways in which it represents modern Jerusalem (could you really walk into the Holy Sepulchre so easily on Holy Saturday?), and, as you might suspect, its rather implausible plot (a bit too much Ark of the Covenant for most).

If you caught the series, do let us know what you made of it.

Hannah Boast

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Dana Hercbergs on the ‘Davidization of Jerusalem’

Tower of David, Jerusalem. Shared from Wikipedia under a Creative Commons Licence.

Dana Hercbergs, who spoke at our November 2014 conference Remembering Jerusalem, has written a piece based on her paper for +972 Magazine.

The article discusses the recent proliferation of images of the Tower of David as a symbol of Jerusalem.

The Tower, Dana writes, has appeared on everything from phone books to votive candles, to real estate adverts. It has reached such a level of popularity that it now seems to be replacing landmarks such as the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.

But why is this the case? Dana’s piece puts forward a number of possibilities, ranging from the increased visibility of settlers in the occupied City of David, to the potential of the Tower to replace the Dome of the Rock/Western Wall image with one which is on the surface (but barely, in reality) less politically charged.

You can read Dana’s article here.

‘…they would fire into her stomach’. How tourguides narrate Palestinians in The City of David, East Jerusalem.

By Dr David Landy, Trinity College Dublin.

The ‘City of David’ is an illegal Jewish settlement in Silwan in East Jerusalem. As such it is a place of violence and tension, with local Palestinian resistance to their colonisation met with brutality by settlers and the Israeli authorities.

landy1

David Be’eri, settler leader, drives his car into a stone-throwing Palestinian child in Silwan October 8, 2010. Photo by: AFP

Strangely, it is also a popular tourist spot with hundreds of thousands coming to see the archaeological dig there, as this was the original site of Jerusalem. I visited the site in order to find out how tours of the site portray local Palestinians. It has been claimed that Palestinians are erased in these tourist narratives, mirroring the de facto erasure practiced by the Israeli settlers who guide tourists around.

While this was one way Palestinians were dealt with, there were times when tours could not elide over their presence. For instance, when tours pass this ‘look-out point’, we were offered a panoramic view of part of Silwan. Row upon row of Palestinian houses were laid out before us, and it was impossible to ignore them.

How then were they dealt with?

The ‘look-out point’ in the City of David. Note the military terminology the site uses.

The ‘look-out point’ in the City of David. Note the military terminology the site uses.

Below is an anecdote from a tour I took. It illustrates one way Palestinians are narrated. On this tour, the Israeli tourguide used the place to tell us about the walls surrounding ancient Jerusalem. She chose a girl of about 12 or 13 from the mostly Jewish audience as a ‘volunteer’ and said ‘meet the hill on which we will build the City of David’.

Pointing to the girl she asked us, ‘If you are to defend your city, where would you build the walls?’ When someone correctly answered ‘high up’, she instructed the girl to raise her hands over her head as ‘walls’, something which made her look even more vulnerable, in need of protecting.

The guide then explained that we also need to protect the water source of our city, at the bottom of the hill, around the girl’s legs. Then she added, ‘we can’t build the walls low down around her legs because if we did, then the enemy on the other hill…’ – and here she pointed to where the Palestinian houses on the other hill were crowding along the slopes, and everyone’s gaze followed her finger and they nodded in understanding. ‘Then the enemy on the other hill, they would fire into her stomach’.

At the time, I was shocked by the visceral atavistic images this narrative evoked, the young woman on whom we build our Jewish city, the need to defend our vulnerable young (Jewish) women, and the casual relegation of un-named Palestinians to the role of the inevitable enemy threatening our citadel. It was a narrative which both elided over Palestinian presence and treated it as a threat.

The imagined ancient ‘City of David’.

The imagined ancient ‘City of David’.

In retrospect, the fact that nobody else was shocked was of equal interest. For key to narrating Palestinians as the enemy is doing so in a non-political, naturalised way which all could accept. And key to the naturalisation process is the sublimation of this enmity.

After all, the tourguides (and while on the lookout point I observed several guides doing the same thing, pointing to the Palestinian houses to illustrate the need to and the ways of defending the City of David) were only discussing ancient history. Palestinians were not named, were not mentioned. This rhetorical trick reminds me of how two of racism’s main carriers are the joke and the rumour, both modes of expression that allow the speaker to disavow the racism they are enunciating, as well as representing it as a commonsensical way of understanding of the world.

In like form, in this tourist site, such stories of ancient city walls protecting the citadel from enemies on neighbouring hills were used to make sense of the confusing ruins we were walking around in. But they had another purpose: these past stories of militarised history served to sublimate the present-day violence against the Palestinians in Silwan. Palestinians themselves were treated as ghosts, absent presences who were faintly threatening, from whom we, in our Jewish citadel, were presently safe.

CFP: ‘Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City’, London, 6-7 Nov. 2014

Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City
6th-7th November
King’s College London

Organised by the AHRC-Funded Research Network ‘Imagining Jerusalem, 1099 to the Present Day’

Keynote speakers: Professor Anthony Bale (Birkbeck), Professor Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths).

Further keynotes TBA.

Perhaps the world’s most iconic city, Jerusalem exists both as a physical space and as a site of memory, ideas, and re-memberings. In art, literature, film, and history writing; in acts of public and private worship; and in communities across the globe, memories of Jerusalem have, for centuries, been created, invoked, and relived. This cross-period, interdisciplinary conference invites paper and panel submissions on the theme of Jerusalem and Memory, c. 1099 to the Present Day. Topics may include, but need not be limited to:

– techniques of memorialisation / techniques of memory
– place, space, and memory
– souvenirs, mementoes, and memory aids
– the materiality (or immateriality) of memory
– memory and sensation
– memory, land and environment
– memory and warfare
– memory and governance
– forgetting, false memory, and fictional remembering
– narrative and memory
– memory and the archive
– national, local, and transnational memories
– memory and community
– ethnography as remembering
– ritual, repetition, and performance
– sacred and secular memory

The organisers are particularly keen to receive panel submissions which address a shared theme across more than one discipline and/or historical period.

Abstracts of c. 300 words for single papers and c. 1000 words for panels consisting of three papers should be sent to imagining-jerusalem@york.ac.uk by 1st July 2014. For more details or inquiries, please contact the same address or visit the Network website: https://jerusalems.wordpress.com/

This conference is organised by the lead members of the Network: Dr Anna Bernard (KCL), Dr Michele Campopiano (York), Dr Helen Smith (York), Dr Jim Watt (York), and the Network Coordinator, Hannah Boast (York).

Download the Call for Papers.

The Franciscan Library and bookshop in Jerusalem

The Biblioteca Generale della Custodia di Terra Santa (General Library of the Custody of the Holy Land), taken by Michele CampopianoBy Dr Michele Campopiano, University of York.

Between the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, among the narrow and busy streets of the Holy City, there is a place which is remarkable for its peacefulness: the Franciscan Convent of San Salvatore. It is one of the convents of the Franciscan Custodia Terrae Sanctae. Following the example of the founder of the order Saint Francis, who visited the Holy Places, the Friars Minor have had a continuous presence in Jerusalem since the 14th century. They have welcomed and helped pilgrims since the Late Middle Ages, and they continue their function as ‘guardians’ of the Holy Places for the Catholic Church.

One of the first things a traveller will notice by entering the walls of the convent is the fascinating encounter of languages and forms of writing: Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Italian (the official language of the Custodia) and many other languages all resound among these ancient walls.

The Custodia is also an important centre of learning. It hosts the library Biblioteca Generale della Custodia di Terra Santa (the General Library of the Custody of the Holy Land), with its important patrimony of manuscripts and modern and ancient printed books.

The library is in a crucial phase of reorganisation and modernisation in order to improve the availability of the patrimony for scholars. Thanks to the kind hospitality of Father Lionel Goh, the director of the Library, and of the helpful employees of the Custodia, I have been able to spend a month in Jerusalem working on the medieval manuscripts of the Custodia. My research will be presented in full in a book I am writing about the history of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land between the 14th and 16th centuries. Some of the first results of my research will be presented in an article to be published in a collective volume edited in Italy by Franco Cardini.

The scholarly activity of the Franciscans themselves is expressed in particular by the work of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum which publishes extensively on biblical archaeology and exegesis, as well as on the history of the Holy Land. Many of the publications of the scholars of the institute can be found in the lovely Franciscan Corner- the Franciscan International Bookshop, near Jaffa Gate, in front of the Tower of David. In this bookshop the publications of the Franciscan Printing Press of Jerusalem and of the Edizioni Terrasanta of Milan, and other books on Biblical studies and the Holy Land and its history can be found. When you enter Jaffa look on your left side, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Imagining Jerusalem – reflections on our first workshop

Our first meeting as a network took place last month in York. We were really pleased to see our early hopes of making cross-period and interdisciplinary connections realised in some fascinating and thought-provoking conversations during the two days of the workshop, and hugely grateful to all the members who were able to make it, especially those who travelled long distances to join us.

I’ve tried to condense some themes from the workshop in the following post, but if you were at the workshop, please do comment with any further recurrent topics that you noticed. If you weren’t, we’d love to hear the ideas that you think we could explore in future.

We began the first day with 5-minute presentations from members on their interest in Jerusalem – an exercise that worked surprisingly well, with everyone keeping to time and offering some thought-provoking questions and ideas! This quick-fire conversation uncovered some interesting points of connection between different periods, geographical contexts and disciplines, and highlighted exciting new areas of research.

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