On 12th December 2023 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. As archaeologists and board of IAI, we are issuing this statement reiterating that resolution and call for an immediate ceasefire and end to the siege in Gaza to allow full humanitarian aid access, and also call for the safeguarding of irreplaceable cultural heritage.
We unequivocally condemn all violations of international law by all parties, including the direct targeting of Israeli civilians and other nationals and hostage-taking by Hamas and other armed groups. No armed attack on a State’s territory, no matter how serious — even an attack involving atrocity crimes — can, however, provide justification for the continued siege of Gaza’s civilian population, and blockade of humanitarian aid.
Over 30,000 men, women and children are dead, 2 million displaced – amongst them 60,000 injured, and a siege is restricting essential food, water, shelter and medical care. UNICEF has warned that lack of water, food, medicine and protection is a bigger threat than bombs to the lives of thousands in Gaza.(1) Even if the bombing stopped today, which it hasn’t, global public health organisations including the World Health Organisation have warned that one quarter of Gaza’s population – half a million human beings – will die within a year due to outbreaks of disease caused by this unprecedented conflict. (2)
This has been the deadliest conflict for children. The deadliest conflict for journalists. The single largest loss of life of United Nations staff. The worst ever total number of attacks on healthcare facilities and their personnel.
In addition to homes, hospitals and critical infrastructure being systematically destroyed, we are witnessing a simultaneous attempt to erase their culture and identity by destroying irreplaceable cultural heritage – archaeological sites, archaeological museums, archives and historic buildings including ancient mosques and churches. (3) Gaza’s oldest mosque, The Great Al-Omari Mosque, originally a 5th century Byzantine church built on an ancient temple, was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes. The Church of St Porphyrius, believed to be one of the oldest churches in the world, was damaged by an Israeli airstrike. There are reports that almost 200 heritage sites have been damaged or completely levelled, as in the case of Anthedon Harbour, the ancient port of Gaza included on UNESCO’s tentative World Heritage list. (4)
We mourn the loss of Palestinian colleagues – archaeology student Moatasem Habeeb, archaeologist and photojournalist Ibrahim Lafi, (5) and renowned photojournalist Rushdi Sarraj (6) – who all worked on the GazaMap archaeological research project – an international collaboration including Irish archaeologist Dr Colin Breen. (7) We are extremely concerned for archaeologist colleagues including Fadel al-Utol (8) who have been displaced multiple times and are in fear for their lives. Fadel is part of a team working on the restoration of the Byzantine monastery of St. Hilarius also known as Tell Umm Amer – also on UNESCO’s tentative World Heritage list. (9) Monitoring damage to the site via satellite UNESCO (on 14 December) granted this site “provisional enhanced protection”—the highest level of immunity against attacks established by the 1954 Hague Convention. (10) Violations could result in criminal sanctions. (11) This senseless slaughter must end before it is too late. There must be an immediate ceasefire and end to the siege.
The Board of the IAI
9 Tell Umm Amer – UNESCO World Heritage Centre