Monday 17 November 2008

New evidence surfaces of David's kingdom

Monday, November 17, 2008

The site recently uncovered by Professor Yosef Garfinkel could be the biblical town of Sha'arayim. (David Blumenfeld / Special to The Chronicle)

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Khirbet Qeiyafa, Israel -- For 3,000 years, the 12-foot high walls of an ancient city have been clearly visible on a hill towering above the Valley of Elah where the Bible says David slew Goliath.

But no one has ever linked the ruins to the city mentioned in the First Book of Samuel's famous account of the legendary duel and the victory of the Israelites - until now. On Tuesday, Hebrew University archaeology Professor Yosef Garfinkel will present compelling evidence to scholars at Harvard University that he has found the 10th century biblical city of Sha'arayim, Hebrew for "Two Gates." Garfinkel, who made his startling discovery at the beginning of this month, will also discuss his findings at the American Schools of Oriental Research conference hosted by Boston University on Thursday.

Garfinkel believes the city provides evidence that King David ruled a kingdom from his capital of Jerusalem. Some modern scholars have questioned the biblical account of David's kingdom and even whether he existed. Although it is not clear how the Sha'arayim relates to David, Garfinkel says finding a Judean city along the ancient highway to Jerusalem that appears to have been a fortress on the western border with the Philistines indicates a kingdom with a developed political and military organization that was powerful enough to include a major fortified city.

"There is no question that Yosef Garfinkel has found a unique and interesting site of a type we haven't had until now," said Aren Maeir, professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan who is excavating Goliath's hometown of Gath nearby. "But we have to wait for more findings and more analysis."

The revelation comes only weeks after Garfinkel's team discovered the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found at the same five-acre site - a 3,000-year-old pottery fragment bearing five lines of text in proto-Canaanite script, a precursor of Hebrew. It was found in a house next to a massive gate on the western side of Khirbet Qeiyafa hill, which Garfinkel believed was the city's only entrance - until finding a second gate last week.

Carbon-14 tests at Oxford University on four olive pits discovered near the inscription dated the relic to the late Iron Age, specifically to the early part of the 10th century B.C., or between 1000 and 975 B.C., the time King David, leader of the Kingdom of Israel, would have lived. David is believed to have united Judea and Israel, establishing a large kingdom that under his son, Solomon, stretched to present-day Egypt and Iraq, according to the Bible.

The five-line text has not yet been deciphered because the ink on 10 of the 50 letters has faded, making them invisible to the naked eye. The fragment will be examined next week at Megavision in Santa Barbara - a company that manufactures digital cameras - and Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, where sophisticated spectrum and ultra-violet fluorescence imaging may reveal the missing letters.

"The discovery of this early Hebrew text tells us for the first time that the people here could read and write at the time of King David, so historical knowledge could be transmitted in writing and not just by oral tradition as some have suggested," Garfinkel said.

Garfinkel knew from the biblical text that Sha'arayim was near the location of the famous duel between David and Goliath and wondered whether the ruins might be the city. Locating the second gate confirmed his belief that he had found the only site mentioned in the David and Goliath narrative that has yet to be discovered. Sha'arayim is not to be confused with the City of David, which is the name of a promontory located within Jerusalem.

Garfinkel, who has excavated numerous sites in Israel, says he discovered the second gate after noticing an apparent break in the massive stone wall as he walked along the 2,100-foot long structure that faced the road to Jerusalem. After two days of digging, his hunch paid off. A second entrance constructed from massive stones lay just a few feet beneath the topsoil.

"This is the only city from the Iron Age in this region ever found with two gates," said Garfinkel as he clambered over the huge structure. "It was probably a mistake. It made the city more vulnerable. It might explain why it appears to have been settled only twice, for very short periods."

Garfinkel says he is certain the newly-found massive stone gate was the main entrance to the city that existed at the beginning of the 10th century B.C. and then again for a few years at the time of Alexander the Great.

"It is enormous, it has symbolic value demonstrating authority and the power of the kingdom," Garfinkel said while describing the huge building blocks of more than 3 feet square and 10 feet long, each weighing more than 10 tons. "They are the largest ever found from the Iron Age. If King David ever came here from Jerusalem, he entered from this gate. It is likely we are walking in the footsteps of King David."

Some scientists say this Iron Age city with evidence of Hebrew civilization and an unexplored fortress at its center will transform current understanding of the ancient Israelites.

Little is known about the Davidic kingdom except for biblical text. In fact, there is little evidence that King David existed, except for one inscription discovered at Tel Dan in northern Israel in 1993 that refers to the "House of David." Some scholars have even suggested that David was little more than a local sheikh who commanded a small tribe in Jerusalem.

"We don't have to interpret the biblical story of David and Goliath literally," said Garfinkel. "There could have been many Davids and many Goliaths. I see this as a border area between the Israelites and the Philistines that was fought over through many generations, like Alsace-Loraine between France and Germany. ... The cities are all where the Bible says they are, and the dating of our finds shows they were settled at the time the Bible suggests."

To date, Garfinkel has excavated less than 5 percent of the site in two seasons of digging. Next year, the Foundation Stone, an educational organization based in Jerusalem that is supporting the project, hopes to encourage hundreds of volunteers to join the dig.

In the meantime, biblical scholars will undoubtedly be poring over the new findings and reigniting the debate over David's existence and whether he battled the giant Goliath as a youth.

"If he is right, this puts David and Solomon out there and shows they are not a figment of the imagination of some much later writer, as some have suggested," said Professor Maeir.

This article appeared on page A - 10 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Blair’s guard triggers chaos

12 Nov 2008

TONY Blair’s bodyguard caused a major security scare at an Israeli airport yesterday when his gun went off by mistake.

No one was hurt, but there was chaos at Ben-Gurion airport.

The police special protection officer was unloading his gun outside prior to boarding a plane to London with Mr Blair when he accidentally fired into the ground. Israeli security officers surrounded him and detained him.

It was all the more embarrassing because it is the third time this year that Mr Blair has been at the centre of a security blunder.

Three months ago a female bodyguard assigned to him accidentally left her gun in the toilets of a Starbucks in London.

And in May Israeli fighter jets were scrambled to intercept an unidentified aircraft approaching Israel at high speed – only to discover it was carrying Mr Blair.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is no pal of ours, Israel's foes say

Thursday, November 6th 2008


JERUSALEM - Palestinians Thursday blasted President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff - and the appointee's father may have poured fuel on the fire.

Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, once a member of the Irgun militia that fought for Israel's statehood, was asked in an interview with the Hebrew daily Maariv if his son's appointment would be good for Israel.

"Obviously, he will influence the President to be pro-Israel," said the elder Emanuel, who immigrated to the U.S. from Israel in the 1950s.

"Why shouldn't he do it? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floor of the White House."

There was no immediate comment from Rep. Emanuel's congressional office.

While Palestinian leaders maintained a diplomatic silence, many ordinary Palestinians reacted with fury in comments posted on Web sites and chat rooms.

"With the appointment of this Zionist, Barack Obama is proving that he is more Zionist than the Zionists," said Subhi Abu Ishira on the Palestinian NGO network, referring to the anti-Arab remark by Benjamin Emanuel.

The Window into Palestine blog called Rahm Emanuel "the son of a terrorist, a real living terrorist."

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, official spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said he had no view on Emanuel's appointment but doubted the optimism surrounding Obama's election would reach the Palestinians.

"He is talking about change," Abu Rudeineh said. "But for it to affect us, we have to see a change of American policy in the Middle East. The American policy is the same. It's not going to be changed."

With Michael Saul in New York

British scientists jump in the saddle to identify 'mystery' horse illness which is racing across Israel

6 November 2008

By Matthew Kalman

British experts have been called in to identify a mystery disease sweeping across stables in Israel which is being blamed for the death of several horses.

Experts are a at a loss to explain the disease which has left hundreds of horses with high temperatures, listlessness and no appetite.

At least 30 stables have been affected and the entire country has been placed under equine quarantine.


British scientists have been called to investigate what is causing a mystery illness affecting horses across Israel. File photo

All public horse meetings and shows have been cancelled until scientists at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, can pinpoint the cause.

'It's very unusual and although we are working round the clock testing samples from many horses, we still don't know the cause of this outbreak,' said Dr Boris Yakobson, director of the Kimron Veterinary Institute in Rishon Le Zion.

'We have placed all the horses in the country under quarantine and restricted the movement of all horses in Israel for the next 96 hours, until we get the results of the tests back from our colleagues in England.'

He added that he had never seen an outbreak such as this and that the horses seemed to be depressed.

'They are behaving strangely, they seem unhappy and they are off their food,' he said.

'We have heard reports of horses dying, but so far none of them have been brought to our lab for post-mortem examination, so we cannot confirm that this disease is fatal.'

In a nationwide alert sent out today, the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture confirmed the quarantine.

But the government assured people that the disease did not affect humans and could not be transmitted by contact between horses and people.

When the illness was first noticed last week, the ministry clamped a quarantine on several areas of the country.

But the outbreak continued to spread, prompting the dramatic decision to halt all movement of horses in Israel.

Officials said they did not know whether the illness had spread into neighbouring Palestinian areas, where horses are commonly used for farming and transport.

Barack Obama's turn to deal with Israel-Palestine conflict

Thursday, November 6th 2008


JERUSALEM - As President-elect Barack Obama was savoring his victory, a short-lived ceasefire between Israel and Hamas collapsed in a fusillade of mortars and missiles.

The headache that was Bill Clinton's and George Bush's for 16 years will become Obama's.

Gaza militants Wednesday lobbed dozens of rockets at Israeli border towns to avenge the deaths of six militants killed earlier in precision air strikes.

Israel unleashed the attack after uncovering a secret tunnel that was to be used to kidnap and kill their soldiers - and after finding rocket launchers poised to hit its border towns.

Secretary of State Rice acknowledged the obvious Wednesday: President Bush's hope for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is dead.

Rice was en route last night to the Middle East to set the stage for future talks, but adding to the uncertainty, Israel is due to have a general election in February. And Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' term as president ends in January.

The Palestinians also remain hopelessly divided between the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip and Fatah-dominated West Bank.

It all amounts to a major challenge for the American President. Israelis and Palestinians were not hopeful that Obama would have any better success than his predecessors in helping them end their cycle of violence.

"It is irrelevant who won," said Ali Abdullah, a Palestinian from the West Bank village of Turmusayya, of Obama's victory. "They are just pro-Israelis, that's it. The Zionist lobby is controlling both, Democratic and Republican, so it doesn't matter."

While Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed his victory as "historic and impressive," others made clear, as polls reflected, that Israel had preferred Republican John McCain.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer who represents terror victims in lawsuits against the Palestinian Authority and various terror groups, said she feared a return to Clintonian diplomacy.

"We know that there will be tremendous pressure on the Israeli government. We know that Obama is bringing back the old team from the Clinton administration that pushes Israel to do stupid mistakes and we hope they will not repeat their mistakes once again," she said.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Tomb raider digs up witch: 12,000-year-old she-shaman, talismans unearthed in Israel


Archeologist Leore Grosman of Hebrew University displays tortoise shells and other bounty dating to 10,000 years before Jesus was alive that her team unearthed in Galilee region of northern Israel.

JERUSALEM - Archeologists have discovered the remains of a 12,000-year-old witch in a tomb in northern Israel.

The tomb is believed to be a witch or she-shaman from the prehistoric Natufian civilization, an ancient community that lived in the area 10,000 years before Jesus.

Scientists from the Hebrew University said the burial site at Hilazon Tachtit, in the western Galilee near Carmiel, contained a vast number of unusual grave offerings.

Among them were 50 complete tortoise shells, the pelvis of a leopard, the wing tip of a golden eagle, the tail of a cow, two marten skulls, the forearm of a wild boar and a human foot.

Dr. Leore Grosman and her team from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University found the witch was 45 years old, petite and had an unnatural, asymmetrical appearance due to a spinal disability that would have affected her gait, causing her to limp or drag her foot.

Grosman believes the special method of burial indicated the woman's special standing in the community. She said it was the first time the grave of an ancient witch had been discovered in the area.

She said the body was buried on its side with the spinal column, pelvis and right femur resting against the curved southern wall of the oval-shaped grave.

The legs were spread apart and folded inward at the knees.

Grosman said 10 large stones were placed directly on the head, pelvis and arms of the woman as she was buried, which could have been designed to protect the body from being eaten by wild animals.

Another theory is that they may have been placed there because the community was trying to keep the shaman and her spirit inside the grave.

The discovery was published in this week's edition of the scientific journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Tortoises, cow tails, eagle wings, and fur-bearing animals continue to play important symbolic and shamanistic roles in the spiritual arena of human cultures worldwide today," Grosman wrote.

"It seems that the woman in the Natufian burial was perceived as being in a close relationship with these animal spirits."

The Natufian civilization, dated from about 15,000 to 11,500 years ago, is believed to be the first human society to move from foraging to organized farming. It was the first civilization known to live in one place all year-round.

Sunday 2 November 2008

It's 'CSI: Jerusalem' as scientist offers his expertise to public

Avner Rosengarten, who offers forensic testing to public, examines shirt at his Jerusalem lab (David Blumenfeld).

JERUSALEM - A top Israeli forensics expert has opened a cut-rate lab that brings CSI to the masses.

Suspicious about the red stain on your husband's collar? The designer perfume that just might be a fake? The boy who looks a little too much like the milkman?

Avner Rosengarten can help.

Rosengarten got the idea to go into private investigative work years ago when, while working in Israel's main police lab, a woman called and asked if he could ID traces of face powder on her husband's collar.

He refused, but when he retired he took out a loan and opened the Forensic Science Institute in July.

"Forensic science is identified with police work, but I believe it belongs to everybody," he said.

"I decided to take the knowledge I gained from my criminal work and apply it to everyday problems for industry, consumers and ordinary people."

"It's enormous fun," said Rosengarten, 54.

Rosengarten's Forensic Science Institute, a state-of-the-art lab in a nondescript Jerusalem back street, can also determine the authenticity of documents, run DNA tests and check whether products are authentic or imported fakes.

He was quickly inundated with clients looking to check out all sorts of things.

He was asked by one woman to check whether her wig was made of real hair. For $400 he was able to confirm it was. For about $300, he ran tests on a red stain on a shirt collar. He delivers all his results face to face, which can be hard if it means effectively telling a woman her marriage is about to end.

"She already had her suspicions. We just provided the evidence," he said. "Lipstick doesn't come off in the wash."

Based on his police experience, his laboratory is also able to test samples from cosmetics firms who believe their products are being ripped off to see if they are the real thing.

"We can tell immediately if a shampoo or soap is fake. The fakes always smell much better," he said.

Rosengarten worked for years as a scientist for the National Forensic Institute in Jerusalem - in other words, CSI Israel.

Israeli security chiefs fear assassination plot from radicals

Sunday, November 2nd 2008


JERUSALEM - Israeli security chiefs believe that extreme right-wing groups are planning a political assassination to push their battle to defend and expand settlements on the West Bank.

The grim warning came in a presentation to cabinet leaders Sunday as Israelis prepared to mark the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

"The Shin Bet has identified a willingness in the extreme right to use arms to stop diplomatic processes by harming political leaders," Shin Bet Secret Service chief Yuval Diskin told ministers.

National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former army general, also said another political assassination was likely.

"In 1995, I said there would be a murder here, and today I am saying the same thing," Ben-Eliezer said.

Just weeks before he was gunned down in Tel Aviv, Rabin had dismissed Ben-Eliezer's fears by asking, "Would a Jew kill another Jew?"

"I told him, 'Yes,'" said Ben-Eliezer.

The warnings came after a weekend of violence at an illegal settlement in the West Bank where settlers clashed with Israeli police trying to evict them.

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter also said that settler violence was on the rise.

"Police have identified an increasing readiness among extremists to lash out against the army and police officers," said Dichter, a former Shin Bet chief.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who will stay in office as caretaker prime minister until a general election in February, has condemned "wild people who behave in a way that threatens proper law and governance."

Elisheva Federman, whose illegal home near Hebron was destroyed early Sunday, accused the Israeli army and police of brutality.

"We will return and build it again," she vowed. "We will return at any cost, even if we have to live in a tent."