From army of Judah to IDF: Israeli soldiers uncover ancient watchtower

“The connection to the land, and the fact that there were Jewish fighters in the past, gave me a sense of mission,” said Second Lieutenant Roi Ofir.

By World Israel News Staff

A watchtower dating from the time of the Kingdom of Judah, during the reign of King Hezekiah, (8th century B.C.E) was recently uncovered during archaeological excavations by IDF soldiers, together with the Israel Antiquities Authority at a paratroopers base in the south of the country

The tower was erected at a high geographic site, and as such, was an observation point to the Hebron Mountains, the Judean plain, and the Ashkelon vicinity. It was built of especially large stones, some 8 tons in weight.

“The strategic location of the tower served as a lookout and warning point against the Philistine enemy, one of whose cities was Ashkelon,” according to Sa’ar Ganor and Valdik Lifshitz, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“In the days of the First Temple, the Kingdom of Judah built a range of towers and fortresses as points of communication, warning, and signaling, to transmit messages and field intelligence,” said the two dig directors.

“This tower is one of the observation points connecting the large cities in the area,” they said, noting that “in ancient times, to transmit messages, beacons of smoke were lit during the day and beacons of fire at night. It is probable that the watchtower now uncovered is one of the towers that bore some of the beacons.”

In the Bible, beacons, or, in the language of the Bible, “pillars,” are mentioned several times.

Judean Watchtower

Stones forming the Judean watchtower (IAA)

Activity in the ancient tower, uncovered in the area of the military base, ceased on the eve of the expedition of Sennacherib, King of Assyria, to Judah in 701 B.C.E., say the excavators.

Archaeological excavations revealed that the entrance to the tower was blocked, and the force stationed there apparently converged on one of the nearby fortified towns. From biblical testimonies and archaeological findings in the area, it was determined that Sennacherib’s attack virtually destroyed Judah, including 46 cities and 2,000 villages and farms.

Now, some 2,700 years after Sennacherib’s expedition to the Land of Judah, IDF soldiers uncovered an observation tower belonging to Judean army soldiers, similar to the watchtowers used today by the modern army of the State of Israel.

Some 150 recruits and commanders from the Paratroopers Brigade, including recruits from commando units, participated in the excavations, in an activity that lasted several months, said Guy Saly, director of the IDF Nature Defense Forces Project.

The project, established with the aim of leading commanders and soldiers to becoming responsible and actively involved in protecting nature, landscape, and the heritage values of their surroundings, began in 2014 with eight projects, and today, as part of this project, sixty activity centers operate across the country, Saly added.

“To our delight, each project creates solidarity, strengthening the connection between the soldiers and their surroundings. The IDF, a melting pot of Israel’s diverse population, is a unique meeting place for people from all parts of the country, which, through environmental activities, creates among them a stronger sensitivity to the preservation of nature and the Israeli heritage,” he said.

A sense of mission

Second Lieutenant Roi Ofir, 21, commander of the recruiting team in the reconnaissance battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade, said: “The archaeological excavation was a routine break from my point of view. I saw soldiers enjoying manual labor that has added value. This is the first time I participated in excavations.

“The connection to the land, and the fact that there were Jewish fighters in the past, gave me a sense of mission. The fact that there was also a connection to the area where we carried out our own military manoeuvers left us with a feeling that we were giving back,” Ofir noted.

The excavation was conducted as part of the project called “The Nature Defense Forces Project- Commanders Take Responsibility for their Environment,” led by the IDF’s Technology and Maintenance Corps, and was carried out in cooperation with the IDF, the Ministry of Defense, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority.