The archaeological excavations conducted in Eretz Israel over the past century reveal a rich and unique culture. The finds that were preserved for hundreds and thousands of years attest to the past of the land and its inhabitants. The national recognition of the importance of Israel's antiquities sites and the commitment to conserve them for future generations led to the establishment of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Conservation Department in 1988, thus completing the full range of archaeological activities in the country: excavations, the analysis of the finds and their publication, and the conservation of the finds themselves and of the sites as a whole. Since the establishment of the Conservation Department the IAA has played a central and active role in the administration and advancement of conservation in Israel. The reorganization of the Conservation Department at the beginning of 2009 reflects the expanded activity of the IAA in promoting conservation heritage in Israel.
Conservation raises complex problems, both managemental and physical, in a number of realms. The management of cultural heritage resources involves a broad range of private and public bodies and individuals (government ministries, local communities, citizens, building contractors, and archaeologists), and is influenced by the conflicts of interests between the respective needs of scientific research and economic and tourism development on the one hand and cultural interests on the other. In terms of the physical aspects of conservation, the threat to the country's cultural heritage has intensified in recent years due to extensive development and construction, warfare, environmental hazards, wide-scale excavations, and the lack of sufficient resources for conservation and maintenance.
The danger facing heritage sites calls for a comprehensive approach, and extreme care and professionalism in the management of these sites. The conservation policy of the IAA was formulated in 1997 by the Conservation Department, as policy that takes the long view and that is based on long-range planning. This policy statement took into account the various elements involved in conservation and the types of sites designated for conservation, and indicated goals and the means necessary for site conservation.
The conservation policy was recently revised so that it would conform with current approaches throughout the world. The 2003 policy lists conservation principles based on currently accepted conservation philosophy and ethics, and emphasizes the concept of the archaeological site as a nonrenewable resource that is to be managed as such. Conservation policy acknowledges the economic and educational importance of archaeological sites, and the need to clearly and fully define their value, as part of a methodical decision making process in the management, preservation, and presentation of the cultural heritage.
The current revision was drawn up following the reorganization of the Conservation Department in 2009.
The means available to the conservation authority, from legislation through site preparation to financing, are interrelated, and to a great degree, interdependent. Conservation policy, with all its component elements, is to be understood and implemented as a complete system, and not by relating to each subject separately.
Policy formulation is a dynamic process. This document is therefore not to be regarded as a definitive statement, but rather as a stage in its formulation, ensuing from the criteria that guide us at present. Further development and specification of the conservation definitions and standards for heritage sites are required, to ensure that they are clear and accepted by all those involved in conservation.
The IAA places great importance upon the explanation of its positions and upon cooperation with the various bodies involved in heritage conservation. We hope that a clarification of the principles guiding the decision making process, and of the ideas and values on which they are based, will facilitate a more professional discussion, on the one hand, and raise the broad public's awareness and comprehension of conservation topics, on the other.
Director, Israel Antiquities Authority