|The mysterious death of Dr
When an American archaeologist was shot dead by a masked gunman on the West Bank in 1992, both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict came under suspicion. Was it the Palestinians trying to halt the peace process then in progress, or was it the Israelis, incensed by his potentially explosive archaeological findings? Then again, it might just have been the tragic result of a squabble between colleagues... Edward Fox reports
Saturday June 2, 2001
Not many people will have read it, apart from addicts of the history and politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but in the spring 1994 issue of an American academic journal called the Journal Of Palestine Studies, there appeared an article entitled Archaeology As Cultural Survival: The Future Of The Palestinian Past. Its author was a little-known American archaeologist, Dr Albert E Glock, who was identified as the director of the Institute of Palestinian Archaeology at Birzeit University, the main Palestinian university in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Glock's article argued that the Palestinian people had been ill-served by the archaeology carried out in their country since excavations began there in the middle of the 19th century. Since their country was also the land in which the stories of the Bible are set, Glock wrote, archaeologists have been exclusively interested in digging up material evidence of the biblical era, to the exclusion of all other periods, notably the centuries of Islamic rule that are of much greater interest to the Arab population. The archaeology of the Holy Land, argued Glock, has written the Palestinians out of the history of their own country in favour of a history of ancient Israel - the latter being, of course, of greater interest to Christians and to the people of modern Israel.
Glock, a one-time Lutheran minister from Illinois, had begun his archaeological career in the region with the excavations at Tell Ta'anach, a biblical site in the northern West Bank, but in the course of a 20-year personal odyssey in the Holy Land he had since transformed himself from a traditional biblical archaeologist into an advocate of an alternative archaeology of the Holy Land; one that sought to redress this imbalance in favour of an archaeology of the Palestinians. His article was a forceful contribution to the cultural politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict from the Palestinian side; but it was unusual in that it placed a subject one would have thought non-political right at the heart of the conflict. Glock was convinced that the struggle for the history of Palestine as revealed by archaeology lay at the heart of the struggle between the two peoples.
Attached to the first page of the article was an extraordinary biographical footnote. It read:
Albert Glock, an American archaeologist and educator who was killed by an unidentified gunman in Birzeit, the West Bank, on 19 January 1992, wrote this essay in 1990... Dr Glock had spent 17 years in Jerusalem and the West Bank, first as director of the Albright Institute for Archaeology and then as head of the archaeology department of Birzeit University, where he helped found the Archaeology Institute. A brief review of the facts connected with his unsolved murder is in order. Dr Glock was shot three times at close range (twice in the back of the head and neck, and once in the heart from the front) by a masked man using an Israeli army gun who was driven away in a car with Israeli licence plates. It took the Israeli authorities, who were nearby, three hours to get to the scene. Apart from a 10-minute statement, Dr Glock's widow was never asked about his activities, entries in his diary, possible enemies, and so on. The lack of Israeli investigation into the murder of an American citizen is perhaps the most unusual feature of the case... Prospects for solving the case thus appear remote.
The way the footnote was written - in a tone of muted outrage - suggested that Glock had been killed by some sort of Israeli hit squad (the gun, the licence plates, the lack of investigation). But why would an Israeli hit squad want to kill an archaeologist? Why would an Israeli hit squad want to kill an American archaeologist, even one with obvious Palestinian sympathies? Why would anyone want to kill an archaeologist?
On the day he was murdered, Glock was working in his office in the Institute of Archaeology. It was a Sunday, and that morning he had attended divine service at the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of the number of religious institutions clustered tightly around the Holy Sepulchre, the lugubrious and claustrophobic Christian shrine that is traditionally believed to contain the tomb of Jesus Christ and the site of his crucifixion.
He drove his VW van from near the Damascus Gate northwards, through Ramallah, to his office in the village of Birzeit, a 30-minute journey. Glock worked alone that day. The shelves in his workroom were filled from floor to ceiling with the cardboard boxes, neatly marked, that contained the excavation material from his digs. The work tables in the room were covered with hundreds of blackened shards of burnt pottery, arranged in a state somewhere between order and chaos. Glock was working with his teaching assistant and a staff technician on the painstaking business of putting as many of the fragments as possible back together into their original forms as domestic pottery vessels.
Some time before 3pm, Glock closed up the office and turned the key in the VW. It was his plan to stop off briefly at the teaching assistant's house in the village to leave a message. The house was built on a slope, below the level of the road. He parked, and walked down the concrete ramp to the front door. As Glock walked towards the front door, a young man with his face wrapped in a kaffiyeh, a black-and-white checked cotton scarf, and dressed in a dark jacket, jeans and white trainers, silently jumped down from the stone wall built against the edge of the road. When he was about a metre away, he shot Glock three times. One of the family inside the house looked out the window just in time to see a figure disappear into a waiting car.
Glock was murdered at 3.15pm on a rainy afternoon, a bleak, cold day in a winter that had been one of the coldest anyone in the West Bank could remember. There had been heavy snow, which stayed frozen on the ground for days. The snow brought down telephone lines and power cables, cutting off electricity and telephones, and the ice caused water pipes to burst. That month, January 1992, was the beginning of the fifth year of the intifada, the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. By early 1992, the intifada was long past its peak, its leaders were languishing in Israeli jails, and the original idealism and hopes of the uprising had given way to a darker, more violent phase that Palestinians called "the red intifada".
It was a grim and dangerous time to be living in the West Bank, but Albert Glock had lived there too long to think about leaving, even though he was 67 years old and overdue for retirement. A year earlier, during the Gulf war, he and his wife Lois had stayed on in the West Bank while most other resident foreigners had fled to safer places. His aim was to be accepted in Palestinian society: he didn't think it was right to leave when the going got tough. The Palestinians, after all (he wrote in letters to friends), could not leave when it would have been more comfortable for them to do so. Glock was a stubborn, rock-ribbed Midwestern Lutheran. He wasn't going to be frightened away from his life's work, the archaeology of Palestine, either by the rocks of the Palestinians or the bullets of the Israelis.
His killing made it into the following day's Jerusalem Post. The story included speculation about who might have been responsible. "Palestinian sources," the paper reported, "said last night they suspected Glock was slain by Hamas terrorists trying to stop the peace process." The Israel-Arab peace talks, which would end in the Oslo agreement in September 1993, were underway in Washington, and the Islamic party Hamas had declared its opposition to the negotiations, which it considered capitulation to the Israeli enemy.
The Jerusalem Post went into more detail in the story it published the next day, which widened the field of suspicion, but still set it squarely on the Palestinian side: "Two motives for the crime are being discussed around campus. The first, say Arab sources, is that Glock was killed either by Hamas or Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist faction of the PLO] activists in order to disrupt the peace process. They also link the timing of this killing to the fact that he was a US citizen and this is the anniversary of the Gulf war. The second version is that the murder was part of a power struggle among the archaeology faculty, one of whom was fired recently. Birzeit president Gabi Baramki denies this emphatically."
Among the Palestinians themselves, however, a rumour began to spread that, at the time of his death, Albert Glock was working on an archaeological excavation near Nablus, and that he had made a discovery that would undermine the whole Israeli historic claim to Jerusalem. So the Israelis killed him to prevent him from revealing his discovery. The story is garbled: Glock never excavated near Nablus. But a similar suspicion was expressed in a statement broadcast by the PLO on its Algiers radio station, Voice Of Palestine. This statement set the murder in the front line of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and made the simple, obvious equation that Glock was the victim of a political assassination because of the political potency of his archaeological work, and that Israel was responsible for it.
Glock first came to Palestine in 1962, to excavate Tell Ta'anach, an ancient mound in the northern West Bank near Jenin. Ta'anach was one of the Canaanite city states that, the Bible relates, were conquered by the Israelite commander Joshua. With a group of biblical archaeologists from a Lutheran seminary in Illinois, Glock excavated for three seasons before and after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But later, after he began to teach at Birzeit, Glock took the radical step of returning to Ta'anach, or rather the Palestinian village at the base of the tell called Ti'innik, to excavate not the parts of the site that related to biblical history but the more recent remains of the 400 years of Ottoman rule in Palestine, which ended in 1918. His aim was to discover not the glories of the Bible but the more modest story of how ordinary life was lived at this ancient site, which had been occupied, on and off, for 5,000 years. The villagers thought it strange that Glock and his team were not interested in excavating the mound, as previous archaeologists had done, but in digging up the sardine cans in their garbage dumps. They thought the archaeologists must be Israelis.
The rumour about Glock discovering something near Nablus therefore had some vague connection to the truth: like Ti'innik, Nablus is in the northern West Bank, and Glock had indeed been excavating something that related to the history of the Palestinians in Palestine, and which had nothing to do with the modern Israelis or the ancient Israelites. Glock was opposed to the view, held by rightwing Israelis, that the biblical accounts of God's promise of the land of Palestine to the Israelites, and their later conquest by Joshua, are not only historically true but a justification of the conquest and seizure of the land of Palestine by their contemporary successors, modern Israelis. Simple rationalism argues against it, he believed. Yet a view of the history of Palestine that does not take the Bible literally is necessarily political: in dissenting from traditional biblical history, Glock was opposing the Zionist project of laying claim to Palestine, and using the biblical tradition to legitimise it. And then he was shot.
Each side believed that the other was guilty of Glock's murder, perhaps not least because, in the never-ending Israel-Palestine conflict, it had become a habit of thought to blame the other side automatically for anything that went wrong. But the killing of Albert Glock was veiled in ambiguity. As every police reporter knows, most murders are personal, and are committed by someone known to the victim. Most murders take place within the family - infanticide is the most common form of murder - and most murders are therefore easy to solve. Glock's killing, however, was not at all like this, so it was evidently an assassination: the killing of someone for what they stand for, by someone the victim did not know personally. Political killings are common enough in the land of the Bible, and they are usually easy to interpret. Yigal Amir, the young man who killed prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, for example, had an intelligible reason for what he did: as an Israeli rightwinger, he was punishing Rabin for making peace with the PLO. But it was hard to know who benefited from Glock's killing, who collected the cheque. No Palestinian political faction, such as Fatah or Hamas, had "claimed responsibility" for it, for example; indeed, Hamas even took the trouble to deny the Jerusalem Post's report that it was behind the murder.
Still, from the Palestinian point of view there was plenty of circumstantial evidence to suspect an Israeli hand in the killing. Glock was shot at about 3.15pm. The army didn't arrive at the scene until some time after 6pm. Yet when, at the request of the Glock family, the Israel National Police gave a terse list of official answers about the incident to the American consulate a year later, they claimed that the IDF patrol arrived at 4.05pm, a discrepancy of two hours.
Nor did the army impose a curfew even though, in the month preceding Glock's killing, two severe curfews had been imposed in the Birzeit area in response to incidents in which guns had been used by Palestinians against Israelis. The first incident was on December 1, 1991, when Israeli settlers from Ofrah, near Ramallah, were shot through the windscreen of their car as they drove through the adjoining town of al-Bireh. One of the settlers was shot in the head and later died in hospital, and his female passenger was hit by a bullet, but not fatally. Responsibility for the attack was assumed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The response of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) was immediate and severe: the entire district was closed off, roadblocks were deployed, and the army carried out thorough house-to-house searches, detained 150 people and interrogated many more than that. A heavy curfew was imposed, which lasted six weeks. Similarly, five days before the assassination of Dr Glock, a bus carrying Israeli settlers was attacked with stones and gunfire outside Ain Siniya, a village about five kilometres north of Birzeit, as it drove along the main road between Ramallah and Nablus at around 6pm one evening. No one was hurt, let alone killed, but the attack provoked a massive military response, with helicopters and house-to-house searches.
Yet when, five days later, a shooting took place in a Palestinian village, and the victim died, there was no curfew at all - the army officer on the scene said that it wasn't worth it. To Gabi Baramki, the acting president of Birzeit, this response was enough to confirm his suspicion of Israeli responsibility. The two-hour delay was no accident, he thought. It was intended to give the assailants time to get away. As for the purpose of the killing, he said, "The Israelis always like to kill 100 birds with one stone." That is, the killing was intended to create fear among the Palestinian population; to damage Birzeit's reputation; to create an excuse for the military administration of the West Bank to close the university permanently, if it wanted to; to frighten the remaining foreign teaching staff at Birzeit into leaving; to spread discord and suspicion; to weaken Palestinian morale; and, above all, to rid the country of a troublesome intellectual who was literally digging up embarrassing facts. This remains the general Palestinian view. Still, Baramki took the trouble to contact PLO headquarters in Tunis to see if they knew anything about the killing: they might have received some information if it had been the work of one of the PLO's radical factions. In the event, not only did PLO headquarters deny any knowledge or involvement, it ordered Baramki to commission an investigation into the killing.
Most of the work of the investigation was carried out by a local Palestinian journalist, Nabhan Khreishah. The object of his report, he said, was so that PLO leader Yasser Arafat could have something in his briefcase that he could show people, something that cleared the Palestinians, so he could say the PLO was taking Glock's murder seriously while the Israelis were not. Khreishah interviewed as many people as he could at the university, and his report focused on a matter that the Jerusalem Post had touched on in one of the articles it published in the days immediately after the killing. A teaching assistant of Glock's named Hamdan Taha had wanted Glock to give him a job at the Institute, something Glock stubbornly refused to do until at last, after a noisy argument in the teachers' union and the Birzeit University student council, Glock had reluctantly given in. For many years, Glock had held the severe and unyielding view that Taha's work was below the standard he wanted for the select group of Palestinian archaeologists he was trying to create; he did this despite the fact that most other Birzeit professors thought Taha was a positive asset to the university, and implored him to give the assistant a chance. It was poor judgment on Glock's part to oppose hiring a Palestinian at such a politically charged moment. Khreishah had to investigate the possibility, therefore, that Glock might - ironically, given the length of time he had lived here, and his devotion to the Palestinian cause - have been seen as an enemy of the Palestinian people as a result of his refusal to give a qualified Palestinian a job. But the dispute had been settled a month before the killing.
Hamdan Taha is now director of the antiquities department of the Palestinian Authority, a branch of the PA's ministry of tourism. From his office in Ramallah, he oversees the restoration and protection of ancient sites and traditional architecture in the areas of the West Bank under PA control. In an extraordinary example of transcultural misunderstanding, the American FBI considers Taha the principal suspect in the crime because he was seen to have benefited from Glock's killing. Certainly, if you look at the matter from the wrong end of a telescope, you might dimly discern Taha prospering after Glock's death, but Taha holds a doctorate in archaeology from the University of Heidelberg, has a wife and family, and knows more about Iron Age burials than how to organise a professional assassination. He is not a credible suspect.
So who did it? Consider the suspects on the Israeli side. It is the view, for instance, of the Ramallah-based human rights group al-Haq that Glock's killing was the work of an IDF undercover unit, for all the reasons expressed by Gabi Baramki. These undercover teams are small, well-trained military units charged with killing at point-blank range the more violent activists of the intifada, the ones identified by Israeli intelligence as having blood on their hands. They came into existence about a year after the intifada started, and by the time of Glock's death their activity was at its peak. By the end of 1992, such undercover units had killed more than 120 Palestinians, half of them in that year alone. And, if Glock's killing were the work of an IDF team, it would also explain the delay in the arrival of the police and the army. But the theory has its weaknesses. A more probable explanation for the delay in the arrival of the security forces was that murder investigations are the responsibility of the Israel National Police, who never went into Palestinian areas without an IDF escort. And because this was not an outbreak of anti-Israeli violence, which would have been more serious, the INP and the IDF had no need to rush to the scene. Second, if the Israeli government saw Glock as a nuisance, all it would have to do to keep him out of the country would be not to renew his visa. Glock lived in the West Bank on an Israeli tourist visa that he had to renew every three months by leaving the country and coming back in again. There was no need to kill him, and so risk jeopardising relations with the US. Third, the IDF units always made their appearances in Palestinian areas with a back-up vehicle and an ambulance, yet no such vehicles were seen in the village on the day of Glock's death. Finally, the INP's lack of success in investigating the murder probably owes more to its own institutional shortcomings than to a conspiracy. The role of the police in the occupied territories was not to preserve civil society and the rule of law. It was to "prevent activity hostile to the administration", in the words of an INP report.
Another theory was that Glock was killed by militant Israeli settlers on the West Bank. A trigger-happy bunch at the best of times, a number of them had attacked a prominent Palestinian activist and Birzeit lecturer, Riad Malki, a few weeks before Glock's murder, while IDF soldiers looked on without intervening. Settlers in the Ramallah area had recently been on the rampage in town in retaliation for the shooting of a settler in al-Bireh. Killing Glock might have been their way of sending a warning to any sympathetic foreigners in Birzeit to go home. It is an indication of the fear these militant settlers inspired in Palestinian minds that this hypothesis had any currency at all, though it is unlikely that any of them had ever even heard of Albert Glock.
On the Palestinian side, meanwhile, there was some speculation that Glock's killing had been an anti-collaborator killing, sparked by his unpopularity as a consequence of the Hamdan Taha dispute. By January 1992, with the intifada in a downward spiral of intra-Palestinian violence, groups of young vigilantes, ungoverned by the clandestine leadership of the intifada, had earned themselves a high profile for several violent attacks on Palestinians who were thought to be collaborating with the Israeli administration. They were especially active in the twin pressure cookers of the intifada, Gaza and Nablus, and they gave themselves scary names such as the Veiled Lions and the Black Panthers.
But Glock's killing had not been like most anti- collaborator killings. As the Palestinians' investigator Nabhan Khreishah puts it, "Anti-collaborator killings are messy. When a Palestinian shoots someone, he just points the gun and goes bang bang bang bang. And bullets are precious and expensive for a Palestinian to get hold of. If a Palestinian wanted to kill an American, why would he want to kill Albert Glock, who had been here for nearly 20 years, when there are plenty of other blue-eyed people around?"
The official line of the Israeli government remains that the killing was the work of a Hamas cell, led by an activist called Adel Awadallah.
Just under a year after Glock's death, Israeli police arrested a 40-year-old Palestinian-American named Muhammad Salah as he was entering the Gaza Strip. The INP found that he had flown into Israel's Ben Gurion airport from his home in Chicago carrying a briefcase that contained $97,000 in cash. Salah was accused of being a senior official within Hamas, and was held in prison in Israel for nine months awaiting trial. In prison, he was subjected to interrogation by the General Security Services, the internal security and intelligence agency better known by its Hebrew initials, Shin Bet. Salah described the form his interrogation took in an affidavit. He was held in a tiny, freezing cell with no bed, and deprived of sleep for up to 48 hours at a time. (Sleep deprivation as a means of breaking a prisoner's resistance was euphemistically called "waiting" in the GSS lexicon.) He was kept awake by being bound for long periods in a sitting position on to a child's chair, an unnatural posture that quickly becomes extremely painful. At other times, he was handcuffed to a chair with a sack over his head, and at night his cell was blasted with loud music. Mostly, the torture was psychological. He was forced to undress and stand naked, with an interrogator threatening to photograph him in that state if he did not co-operate. He was threatened with violence against himself, against his family outside, and with long imprisonment. Such methods have since been outlawed by the Israeli supreme court.
Salah's interrogation produced a wealth of material about Hamas operations in the West Bank and Gaza. Never before had the Israelis reaped such a rich haul of information about an organisation that was at this point in history still only vaguely known, and the Israelis made no secret about the prize that had fallen into their hands, even though the information gleaned must be treated with caution because it was obtained by torture. Among the information Salah provided was a vague remark that seemed to refer to the murder of Glock. Salah described conversations he had had with the Hamas activist Adel Awadallah. Salah was travelling around the occupied territories hearing progress reports from Hamas cells and disbursing money for future operations. The Israeli government claims that, in the course of reporting to Salah, Awadallah told him that his cell had been responsible for "the operation of the doctor at Birzeit", but did not go into any detail or give any reason for it, other than the obscure explanation that he "cursed Muslims". Adel Awadallah was later held responsible for organising a number of Hamas bombings in Israel, including the September 1997 bombing in the Ben Yehuda Street market in Jerusalem.
If true, what this means is that, far from being a well-organised, clandestine paramilitary operation, as Hamas is usually perceived to be, in the early 90s a Hamas cell such as the one run by Awadallah could operate virtually autonomously, and that Awadallah could direct people to carry out a killing without reference to the movement's high command. Indeed, as if embarrassed by the killing, eight days after Glock's death, Hamas headquarters issued a public denial that it was responsible.
Even if one is convinced by the hypothesis that Hamas carried out the killing, one can still only speculate about its motive. Adel Awadallah was based near enough to Birzeit to have heard the story about the American professor who had blocked the appointment of a qualified Palestinian, and was therefore a foreign enemy, a collaborator, and also to have known Hamas sympathisers - students, maybe - who had sufficient local knowledge to carry out the shooting. A Hamas cell, whether led by Awadallah or just equipped by him, may have undertaken to kill Glock as an independent freelance operation, something that the movement's higher circles sought to distance themselves from because it was so unhelpful to the Palestinian cause.
Today, Adel Awadallah is unavailable for comment, however. On September 10, 1998, Adel and his brother Imad, by this time Israel's and the Palestinian Authority's most wanted men, were ambushed in a farmhouse near Hebron by a special unit of the Israel National Police. Both were shot dead. The INP's investigation into the murder of Albert Glock remains open.
God alone is omniscient
Extracted from PALESTINE TWILIGHT: THE MURDER OF DR GLOCK AND THE ARCHAELOGY OF THE HOLY LAND by Edward Fox, published by HarperCollins on 18th June at £19.99. © Edward Fox 2001
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