The violence in Israel and the West Bank has taken its toll on digs. Some excavation directors chose not to go into the field last summer, and many readers may wonder if it is safe to volunteer in 2002. Most digs are far from areas of violence and we know of no dig volunteers who have been threatened or harmed. The handful of directors we contacted ranged from cautious to confident in assessing the upcoming season.
“I am happy to report that the people who participated in our Kursi Excavation were 100 percent unaffected by the tension in Judea,” writes Charles Page II (Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies). “We were there from late August until late September . I polled our team to find out how many would feel comfortable returning. All of them said they would.” He noted that Kursi and Capernaum, two excavations he directs with Vassilios Tzaferis, are on the tranquil shores of the Sea of Galilee; a third, Banias, is in a quiet area in the Golan. He expects the three sites to attract 200 or more volunteers next fall.
Yosef Garfinkel (Hebrew Univ.), dig director at Sha‘ar ha-Golan in northern Israel, hosted fewer volunteers last season but remains optimistic: “In 1998 though 2000 we had 60 to 100 volunteers each season, but in 2001 we had 25. So we excavated in one area of the site instead of three. But the volunteers that arrived that season were highly motivated. Nobody left in the middle, everyone worked very hard, and there was a special group unity. I think that with a smaller number the work was more efficient. I also tried harder to give them a good time, organizing weekly tours of the region and Thursday night parties with ice cream, wine and dancing.”
“A great sense of camaraderie developed,” Rami Arav (Univ. of Nebraska, Omaha) and Richard Freund (Univ. of Hartford) write of their excavation at Bethsaida. “Our volunteers really understood how much their work meant to us.” Only 82 came to Bethsaida in 2001 (down from 291 in 2000)—but the directors are actively recruiting for 2002.
At Ein Gedi, on the shore of the Dead Sea, director Yizhar Hirschfeld (Hebrew Univ.) also retained a loyal corps of volunteers. “The situation is difficult now. Many have not registered for the upcoming excavation. Nevertheless, we have a group of veteran volunteers who return every year no matter what. As bad as the political situation may be throughout the country, the media greatly exaggerate the risk. I do not foresee any difficulties at Ein Gedi.”
Last season, however, some American universities would not allow their faculty to recruit volunteers for digs in Israel. “The issue is the university’s liability for the safety of people on a university project,” explains Ken Holum (Univ. of Maryland), whose excavation at Caesarea Maritima will proceed this year only with staff and not volunteers, unless the political situation improves. Yosef Garfinkel notes that a German organization that used to send 30 volunteers each year to Sha’ar ha-Golan declined to participate in 2001.
Tom Levy (Univ. of California, San Diego), director of Khirbat en-Nahas in Jordan, tries to stay hopeful. “We are planning our Fall 2002 season, including a field school, as if the Middle East (and the world) will be a better place than it is right now. The Arabic saying, yom asal, yom basal —one day honey, one day onions—reflects the reality of working there. We have had a lot of onions these past several months and hope and pray for honey over the next year.”