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Thursday, December 7, 2006

Again, from my anonymous academic source:

The controversy over Nadia Abu el Haj’s tenure is much more than the proverbial tempest in an ivory (tower) teapot. One of the allegations that Abu El Haj makes in her book is that Israeli archaeologists have routinely “used bulldozers and otherwise dismantled and removed various finds and buildings dating to various Islamic periods” (p. 157) in a deliberate and calculatedly nationalist effort to “quickly work their way down to those strata in which the Jewish (colonial-) national imagination is rooted.”

Abu el Haj makes no effort to prove her case, except by quoting an anonymous archaeologist. Two very distinguished archaeologists, David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University (Tel Meggido,) and Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University (Tel Gath) have refuted her allegations. Nevertheless, the fact that the book is published by the University of Chicago Press and the fact that she is on the faculty of Columbia University enables others to cite her work as though it proved that Israeli archaeologists deliberately destroy evidence of Muslim life in Israel.

Here is a sample of the ways Abu El Haj’s work is cited:

Joachim Martillo [a notorious local Boston anti-semite. -S] writing on the American Al Jazeerah webpage [not to be confused with the TV network -S], “Facts on the Ground by Nadia Abu el-Haj discusses the ideology of destroying the physical record of the presence of Palestinians…”

Matt Edgeworth of Albion Archaeology speaking at the World Archaeological Congress, 2003, “What distinguishes the work of Abu El-Haj from others who link archaeology with forms of nationalism is her movement away from an emphasis on scientific discourse towards a focus on scientific practice. In other words it is not just what archaeologists say that is important, but also and especially what they do. The bulldozing away of layers pertaining to a particular cultural group or peoples, in order to reach levels pertaining to one’s own perceived national or cultural heritage…”

Elia Zureik writing in The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies, (note: Abu El Haj serves on the editorial board of this journal) “Abu El-Haj notes that in excavating the Old City Israeli bulldozers leveled several Islamic monuments…”

And, last but not least, Edward Said, speaking at Ewart Hall, The American University in Cairo, on March 17, 2003, “Even so apparently innocent a discipline such as archeology, which is one, of course, of the prides of Egypt, was used in Israel and was made complicit in the making-over of the land and its markers, as if there had never been any Arabs or any other civilizations there except Israel and the Israelites. This is very well described by a young Palestinian anthropologist Nadia Abu El-Haj in her recent book called Facts on The Ground: Acheological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (2002). Her argument is that in the process of providing Israel with an ancient objectivized history visible in archeological evidence, the traces of other more just as historical histories were ignored or simply moved away by trucks and bulldozers.”

People really do believe such allegations, when the footnote reads Barnard College, Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

The problem with these citations is that there is no evidence that the deliberate, systematic destructions of non-Israelite artifacts and strata that Abu el Haj alleges ever actually occurred. Unfortunately, when a book is published by the University of Chicago Press, readers will confidently expect that the factual assertions it contains are reliable. The trust placed by the general public in the work of university-based scholars and in the books published by university presses rests on the assumption that although an individual scholar’s interpretation of evidence may be controversial, the scholar, the university, and the university press can be trusted to have checked that all verifiable assertions have been verified. If a title is published by Pluto Press, we are likely to approach any assertions the author makes with caution. But this title is published by the University of Chicago, and that Press has some explaining to do.

In her book, Abu El Haj levels serious charges of professional malfeasance at archaeologists' digs in Israel. She has accused Israeli archaeologists in general and David Ussishkin specifically, of using of irresponsible field methods in defiance of the objections of colleagues, of the deliberate destruction of unrecorded strata, and of choosing which layers to study and which to destroy out of nationalistic motivations.

By publishing these evidence-less charges the University of Chicago Press has given the impression that the publication of allegations without evidence is responsible scholarship. By appointing a scholar who accuses other scholars of malfeasance without presenting evidence, Barnard College risks its reputation for scholarly integrity.

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Nadia Abu el Haj, Bulldozing the Facts at the University of Chicago and Barnard College.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.solomonia.com/cgi-bin/mt4/mt-renamedtb.cgi/6961



3 Comments

I studied with Nadia at the University of Chicago and can attest that her work speaks for itself.

When she taught the anthropology of science, just to give you one example, she did not teach her own work. Very rare for any academic! It shows that she has not sought the "fame" that campuswatch sorts have thrust upon her.

Archeologists on the faculty at the University of Chicago, as well, for that matter, as prominent Jewish anthropologists like Marshall Sahlins, Jean Comaroff, and John Comaroff, admired her work. Even when they didn't particularly admire Foucault, who inspired some of it!

At the time that Nadia was hired, moreover, a strange brand of baseless post-structuralism was sweeping archeological theory.

Stanford University, for one, had just hired someone from the U.K. who espoused the "new" archeological theory. Nadia was seen as extremely knowledgable about archeological theory and practice compared to scholars who espoused the new-fangled and unfounded theory and practice of the discipline; and, for that matter, compared to a lot of old fashioned archeologists. By established figures like Kathleen Morrison and Michael Dietler.

Moreover, why Nadia is being singled out for not knowing Hebrew is hilarious, given the poor state of many more conventional scholars' knowledge of Arabic.

I have done research with one now prominent historian at the University of California at Berkeley who studies, among other things, Jewish History in North Africa.

This scholar is well known for not having been able to do any archival research in Arabic when she had a Fulbright Hayes. She had to hire local professors to translate for her.

She has also become known as an urban historian. When I was with her in the country in North Africa which is her speciality, however, she knew nothing about urban history.

This was not that long ago. Today she is on the faculty of Berkeley. I have two degrees in urban studies/urban planning. So I know wherefrom I speak regarding her lack of knowledge about urban history.

Guess what else? She wasted tax payers' money by spending her time on her Fulbright Hayes, to a large degree, running around the South of France with an Algerian with whom she expected to marry.

Having been on the ground, so to speak, with the UCB scholar and with Nadia, I can certainly say that the former's methods are lacking while Nadia's are not.

In short, the hysteria toward Nadia should be turned toward some of the more conventional scholars in Middle East Studies. Then you would see who lacks research skills.

Can give you tons of examples in addition to the one from Berkeley...So why is Nadia getting all of the flack?

Nadia is "getting all the flack" quite simply because her book is so shoddy.

You call criticism of Nadia for not knowing Hebrew "hilarious." But this is a woman who purports to have conducted an anthropological study of Israeli society. Israelis speak Hebrew. I'm not laughing.

What truly bothered me about the book, which I read carefully, was her dishonest use of evidence. She sets out to make a case that the assertion that there were ancient Israelite kingdoms is questionable. Perhaps the most incontrovertible evidence for the existence of those kingdoms lies in the mountains of securely-dated inscriptions, graffito, and ostraca with writing in paleo-Hebraic scripts. Nowhere in her book is there a mention that this vast body of irrefutable written evidence exists. A reader unfamiliar with the archaeological data (including, apparently, the members of the Barnard anthropology department) might actually be persuaded that archaeologists are positing ethnicity based on the shape of pots.

To make it appear that the existence of the ancient Judean and Samarian kingdoms is a matter of interpretation, she has to lie. In other words, in the case of Nadia el Haj, poor scholarship is a euphemism for deliberate lying.

You defend Nadia's bad scholarship essentially by saying that there are a lot of inadequate scholars out there. There are also a fair number of liars publishing in academic places. But to say: everybody does it, is a pretty shoddy defense.

Adam does not want to admit that this woman has a political axe to grind, as much or more than those Israelis whom she criticizes. Essentially, she is vindicating --or trying to do so by means of her bigoted criticisms-- the claim in Article 20 of the PLO charter that there is no Jewish history in the Land of Israel [which the PLO charter calls "palestine," of course, although the Arabs/Muslims did NOT traditionally see this country as separate from what they called "bilad ash-Sham", that is, Syria or Greater Syria, including Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon of today, grosso modo; in other words "palestine" and a "palestinian people" did not traditionally exist in the Arab-Muslim mind]. Article 20's claim is a lie, it is tendentious, bigoted, Judeophobic, etc. It is refuted by a huge mass of literary-historical writings by various peoples in various languages, including Arab historians and the Quran itself. It is also refuted by a mass of archeological discoveries, inscriptions, etc.

Meanwhile, destruction by Arabs of Jewish antiquities in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East is not reported by Nadia Abu el-Haj, as far as I know. For one example of this, see:
http://ziontruth.blogspot.com/2007/09/arabs-in-gaza-have-destroyed-jewish.html

Giving her tenure at Columbia is meant to be an anti-Israel, Judeophobic act. The implications are genocidal.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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