Since Elad received responsibility for the national park’s management, the rate of archaeological excavations has doubled and tripled. Mobilizing millions of dollars, Elad initiates many controversial excavations that are carried out by the Antiquities Authority. It is important to understand that almost all excavations in Wadi Hilwah are defined as salvage excavations.
In contrast to excavations licensed and executed by academic institutes, salvage excavations are authorized by an internal process of the Antiquities Authority in order to rescue and document findings before future construction. In Wadi Hilwah, however, building is completely prohibited, and therefore, it is not clear under which provision and authority these salvage excavations are carried out.Excavations are conducted behind fences, security and curtains, which stress the estrangement between the residents and the archaeology in the village.
Many of the excavations are done rapidly and in a manner that archaeologists in Israel and abroad find unacceptable. In some sites archaeological strata have been removed with no public discussion: in Elad-sponsored excavations next to the old city walls, skeletons were removed by the Antiquities Authority from tombs from the Muslim period without the Ministry of Religion being notified, according to the Haaretz newspaper; this is against the regulations of the Antiquities Authority itself.
Archaeological excavations are also planned and carried out beneath private residences without the residents being consulted. In the last couple of years, parts of houses have collapsed, land has subsided and roads have caved in. In one case, the walls of a kindergarten collapsed next to an excavation. As a result the municipality closed-off two rooms in the kindergarten but offered no alternative for the children. More encouragingly, one of the lateral diggings was temporarily stopped as a result of the residents’ petition to the Israeli High Court.
In contrast to the excavations of the 70s, led by Prof. Shilo, which were part of the village and to its benefit, today’s excavations are done under a mantle of heavy security: armed guards, 24-7 surveillance cameras, fences and locks.Dozens of security cameras are installed in the neighborhood to secure the settlers and the national park. Some intrude on the residents’ privacy.