Palestine Twilight: The Murder of Dr Albert Glock and the Archaeology of the Holy Land
10 July 2001
10 July 2001
Digging and death
Even archaeology can be deadly in the Holy Land
ONE SUNDAY afternoon in 1992 Albert Glock, an American archaeologist who directed the Institute of Palestinian Archaeology at Bir Zeit University, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, called at his assistant's house. Opening the garden gate, Glock was shot three times by an unidentified young man.
Who did it? A Palestinian account fingered a masked man using an Israeli gun, quickly driven away in an Israeli-licensed car, and commented on the failure of both the Israeli authorities and subsequently the FBI to solve the murder of an American citizen.
The simplest explanation could be that Dr Glock, who worked for years at Tell Ti'innik - "Taanach" in the Bible, and now a village on the Jordanian border - was promoting interpretations of the Holy Land's remote past that cut across strict Zionist readings of the Old Testament. Rather less credible, except perhaps to those who work in universities, was the theory that Dr Glock's elimination arose from inter- departmental feuding at Bir Zeit.
Edward Fox, chancing upon the bald account of Glock's death, became so intrigued that in 1997 he and his family moved to "the weary little Palestinian town" of Bir Zeit, where he enrolled in the university intending or hoping to solve the mystery. Palestine Twilight is the outcome.
It may be said at once that the murder of "Al" Glock remains unexplained. Certainly his apparent championing of the Palestinians could have infuriated West Bank Israeli extremists; certainly Glock had for years walked a tightrope between the antiquities authorities of both camps, though without making fatal enemies. Edward Fox's preference as culprit is Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist movement, incensed by Glock's secular - as opposed to Islamic - portrayal of Palestine's deep past. This argument is not very convincing, but also not over-pressed.
The book is built around a long and brilliantly presented account of the special, intricate and always controversial nature of archaeological excavations in the Holy Land - from Syria and Lebanon down to Gaza and Sinai. Controversial because findings may conflict with, or confirm or be adjusted to confirm, particular readings from the Old Testament; and because in the past half-century a bemused world has been presented with spectacular discoveries said to underpin either Jewish claims or Palestinian counter claims about the region's past.
The second part of Fox's book, very much written from the inside and again well-balanced, describes the political, intellectual and sometimes internecine scenario against which any speculation about Glock and his death must be placed.
The book is, from start to finish, intensely readable, fresh, informative and illuminating. It is not easy to warm to Al Glock as a man. Of Mid-West Lutheran origin and himself a minister, Glock came to archaeology through historical analysis of the Bible. He was fearless, deeply religious, even generous, but also aloof and unyielding.
And a necessary postscript: it's no good feeling superior to the African, Oriental, even European countries which press archaeology into the service of naked politics. Go to Edinburgh, visit the magnificent new Royal
Museum of Scotland. Impressed by the artwork, the wonderful finds, the top-rank displays? Read all the labels, carefully. This is a political museum whose prime function is to construct a new Scottish identity.
Charles Thomas is an archaeologist and historian.