"Archaeology is not a science, it is a
                                                vendetta." Geoffrey Wheatcroft on the
                                                assassination of an American who became
                                                caught up in the land disputes of the Middle

                                                Monday 6th August 2001

                                                Palestine Twilight: the murder of Dr Albert Glock
                                                and the archaeology of the Holy Land
                                                Edward Fox HarperCollins, 283pp, £19.99
                                                ISBN 0002556073

                                                One of the books of our age waiting to be written
                                                could be called The Uses and Abuses of History.
                                                So many books, from the coarsest potboilers to
                                                seemingly scholarly works, hum with overtones and
                                                hidden political themes; so much "history" is
                                                nationalist propaganda in not very heavy disguise.
                                                Eric Hobsbawm's favourite example is a book that
                                                he came across called Five Thousand Years of
                                                Pakistan - this of a country that was not born 60
                                                years ago or dreamed of 20 before that. Mine is the
                                                book that the Irish nationalist Mrs Stopford Green
                                                published in 1925 under the magnificently absurd title
                                                A History of the Irish State to 1014. Even now,
                                                any historian knows well what a perilous business it
                                                is to write about Ulster or Bosnia.

                                                Or the Holy Land, for that matter, and what applies
                                                to history applies there with even more force to
                                                archaeology. Albert Glock learned that the hard
                                                way. He was an American, a Lutheran missionary
                                                who had given up that calling for archaeology, and
                                                for Palestine. He had spent 17 years working in
                                                Jerusalem and on the West Bank, where he was the
                                                director of the Institute of Palestinian Archaeology at
                                                Birzeit University. One Sunday in January 1992, at
                                                the age of 67, he was shot dead by unknown
                                                assassins near his campus.

                                                At the time of the killing, Edward Fox had never
                                                heard of Glock. Fox is an American journalist and
                                                author living in London, who happened, two years
                                                after the murder, to read an article on "Archaeology
                                                as Cultural Survival" in the Journal of Palestine
                                                Studies. In an astonishing footnote, written with little
                                                pretence of scholarly detachment, Fox read that
                                                Glock had been shot "by a masked man using an
                                                Israeli army gun who was driven in a car with Israeli
                                                licence plates". Fox's first reaction was, "Why would
                                                anyone want to kill an archaeologist?" That query
                                                prompted this book, a real-life whodunnit.

                                                In search of an answer, he took himself to the West
                                                Bank and enrolled in the university. Whatever he
                                                discovered about Glock's own life and character, his
                                                astonished question was not quite so baffling as it
                                                might seem. Everyone quotes Sir Mortimer
                                                Wheeler's saying that archaeology isn't a science, it is
                                                a vendetta, but he was speaking merely of ferocious
                                                feuding and jalousies du metier among
                                                professionals with no profound ideological
                                                differences. In the Holy Land (that newly convenient
                                                expression, which avoids the question-begging of
                                                "Israel" or "Palestine"), the vendettas are more bitter
                                                still because they go to the heart of whose land it is.
                                                There, "archaeology" has indeed been a continuation
                                                of religious and communal struggle by other means,
                                                perhaps since the Empress Helena embarked on her
                                                search for the True Cross.

                                                From its own early days, the Zionist movement
                                                included enthusiasts who gave "dig for victory" new
                                                meaning, by way of research designed to establish
                                                the Jewish origins of the land, much overlaid by later
                                                conquest and settlement. Several Israeli politicians
                                                have been keen archaeologists, and anyone who has
                                                visited the pinnacle fort of Masada, for example, will
                                                have realised that it is as much political statement as
                                                antique monument. Then, more recently, there had
                                                been what Fox calls a Copernican revolution in the
                                                subject, with the familiar world of biblical
                                                archaeology turned upside down by a conscious
                                                attempt to remove religious bias.

                                                In his lifetime, Glock's work had all sorts of political
                                                implications. Not least, he believed that the local
                                                bodies which were relics of empire - the British
                                                School of Archaeology and the Ecole Biblique -
                                                would and should diminish in importance compared
                                                with the home-grown institutions, although those, the
                                                Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his own
                                                university, were inevitably seen as academic
                                                flagbearers for their respective nationalisms. At the
                                                same time, and for all his Palestinian sympathies,
                                                Glock wanted to be an honest man. He may not
                                                have been a scholar of world renown (his Israeli
                                                enemies denigrated him by pointing out how little he
                                                had published) but he did know the difference
                                                between scholarship and propaganda, and thought
                                                that limiting Palestinian archaeology to the glories of
                                                the Islamic age, as some of his students wanted, was
                                                no better than the Zionist-biblical interpretation.

                                                In other words, there was a variety of groups with
                                                grudges against him. And after his death he became
                                                a political football. Israeli newspapers quoted
                                                "Palestinian sources" who suspected that Glock was
                                                killed by Hamas terrorists trying to derail the peace
                                                process, while the PLO denounced the murder of a
                                                man who had "contributed with his technical research
                                                to the refutation of the Zionist claims over Palestine",
                                                and saw in the murder "new proof of Israeli attempts
                                                to tarnish the reputation of the Palestinian people in
                                                American and international opinion". But politics was
                                                not the whole story: as with all the best thrillers, the
                                                book also has a love interest. Glock had developed
                                                a deep infatuation with Maya al-Farabi, an intelligent,
                                                politically aware Palestinian, zealous and rebellious,
                                                who had become "his personal holy grail of Palestine
                                                and Palestinian archaeology". He educated her
                                                academically, nurtured her, took her on as his
                                                assistant, groomed her as his successor. And all the
                                                while, as he wrote in his diary, "I can hardly deny
                                                that I am deeply in love with her."

                                                So whodunnit? Fox tiptoes round the question
                                                intelligently and reflectively. His book is pleasingly
                                                written, and if the style is sometimes dry to the point
                                                of desiccation, that is better than the lurid
                                                attitudinising the subject would have drawn from
                                                some writers one can think of. His sleuthing takes
                                                him to the Israeli police, to the CIA, which confirms
                                                that Glock was not a spy, and to the human rights
                                                organisation Al-Haq, which offers what is often the
                                                only legal channel available to Palestinians, as "law
                                                and order was virtually non-existent in the West
                                                Bank and Gaza". The Israelis were unforthcoming,
                                                and the Arabs continued to hint darkly that Glock
                                                was killed as "a warning to Americans not to come
                                                here to help the Palestinians".

                                                An alternative theory that he was bumped off by
                                                disgruntled Palestinians had some plausibility, but
                                                was discounted for the bleak reason that he had
                                                been shot so neatly, while "anti-collaborationist"
                                                killings on the West Bank tended to be much
                                                messier. Then there was Maya, and a report from
                                                the American consul in Jerusalem to Washington that
                                                said: "There has also been speculation that some of
                                                the family members of the research assistant felt
                                                obliged to defend family honour." In the end, Fox
                                                provides a denouement of sorts, but no absolute
                                                conclusion, because "in the Glock murder case, as in
                                                archaeology, no answer will ever be final". If that
                                                makes this fascinating book incomplete as a
                                                detective story, it remains an absorbing, and very
                                                sad, sidelight on the world's most bitterly intractable

                                                Geoffrey Wheatcroft's The Controversy of Zion
                                                (Sinclair Stevenson, £17.99) won a 1996 US
                                                National Jewish Book Award