The Israel Antiquities Authority file libel suit against ‘Emek Shaveh’ following a Facebook post
In the Facebook post, Emek Shaveh claimed that the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) committed to releasing the archaeological site at Tel Motza for construction in exchange for covering the Authority’s deficits even before commencing the excavation work, and although it would likely entail damage to the antiquities. Emek Shaveh: We stand behind our statements. We are not aware of any cases where a governmental body sues a civil society organization in order to silence professional criticism. The Antiquities Authority has betrayed its responsibility to safeguard antiquities from economic interests and is now using public funds to censor the publics’ complaints.
The Israel Antiquities Authority filed a libel suit against ‘Emek Shaveh’ in response to a post published by Emek Shaveh in July, which claimed that in the context of an agreement between the IAA and the State, the IAA which conducted a salvage excavation at Tel Motza committed to releasing the site for construction on a predetermined date. In other words, the IAA had agreed in advance to bury the site and its antiquities beneath what will now become Road 16 regardless of what it will find in the rescue excavations.
The suit was preceded by a warning notice, in which the IAA urged Emek Shaveh to apologize, delete the post and even threatened the organization’s employees with criminal suits against them. In addition, the IAA demanded to keep the agreement a secret.
During the Tel Motza salvage excavations, a 9,000 year old village was unearthed. According to the IAA, it is the largest prehistoric village uncovered in the Middle East and has changed the way we understand the Neolithic period. A week after the IAA had issued a press release detailing the archaeological discoveries, work commenced to cover up parts of the site. Emek Shaveh, like many others in the archaeological community, were deeply critical of the Antiquities Authority’s decision to conduct an excavation at such a significant site and permit construction on a considerable part of the area that was excavated, thereby leading to its destruction.
In a statement attached to the libel suit, the Antiquities Authority is demanding a public apology and monetary compensation to the sum of 143,000 NIS.
We are unaware of any prior libel suit by governmental bodies against civil society organizations. It appears this is the first case whereby a statutory authority decides to take legal action in order to silence public criticism against its actions. The fact that the IAA, whose role is to protect antiquities and encourage an open and academic dialogue, is filing a strategic lawsuit against public criticism is extremely unsettling.
Emek Shaveh’s response: We stand behind our statements and believe that the court will rule in our favor. It is a pity that the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is exclusively responsible for the fate of the antiquities of our country, has chosen to use scare tactics to silence legitimate criticism instead of working to protect and defend the remnants of the past.
Every taxpayer in Israel should know that their money is being used to erase a debate from social media. This is a highly irregular case whereby a statutory authority in the State of Israel that is obligated to conduct itself with transparency and advance academic research and public discourse is acting aggressively, issuing threats in the form of strategic lawsuits against public participation in order to censor criticism and discussion.