The diabolical destruction of Biblical sites in Judea and Samaria

‘Our history is being erased’ – Knesset Members call on the Israeli government to take action and protect archeological sites in Judea and Samaria from Palestinian destruction.

By Aryeh Savir, TPS

The Knesset’s Education Committee held a session Monday on the damage and destruction of heritage and archeology sites in Judea and Samaria, during which Members of Knesset called on the government to formulate a plan for the preservation of archeology sites in Judea and Samaria.

Grave robbers and antiquities thieves from the Palestinian Authority (PA) carry out illegal digs and excavations. The phenomenon of antiquity destruction is pervasive and affects all sites that are not under preservation, and a survey of the sites in Judea and Samaria shows that a staggering 95% of the archeological sites have been robbed, vandalized or disturbed.

Findings presented during the session by a coalition of organizations working for the protection of Israeli antiquities show that 90% of the sites that are destroyed are being destroyed by the PA for development purposes, and 10% are destroyed for robbery purposes.

Most recently, unknown individuals from the PA have again caused damage to the Biblical-era site of Yehoshua ben Nun’s Altar on Mount Ebal.

In November 2020, the PA inaugurated a “Palestinian” tourist complex in the town of Sebastia in Samaria, the historic capital of the biblical Kingdom of Israel.

Moshe Guttman, chairman of “Shomrim Al Hanetzach” (Preserving Eternity), a watchdog group dedicated to protecting Israel’s archaeological treasures, warned the Committee that “our history is being erased. We think the State of Israel is sleeping while standing up and no one is doing anything about it.”

Hanania Hizmi, Archeology Chief of Staff at the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), claimed that the data presented to the committee on the destruction of heritage sites is incorrect.

However, he said that he has “eight inspectors at our disposal and it is difficult to monitor all the sites in such a wide area. Our inspectors have investigative and detention powers. We think we need 20 more people so that we can do serious work.”

‘There is no Palestinian people’

Amir Ganor, director of a robbery unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the IAA “does not make any political distinction and every culture for us is a whole world. The situation is shocking – in Judea and Samaria, in almost every cave we entered we found a looting excavation. We work almost every night to thwart the actions of antiquities robbers.”

“If the sovereign tells us to deal with the destruction of antiquities and the robbery of sites in Judea and Samaria, we will do it with great joy and success, because we are the professional body that knows how to deal with these things,” he stated.

Hanan Erlich of the Ministry of Justice reported that his office has commenced with actions to contend with the phenomenon.

During the debate, the Jewish and Arab MKs waged a battle of words, with Arab MK Sami Abu Shehadeh claiming that “there is an erasure of the Palestinian people with a wave of the hand by a group of petty racists,” and MK Orit Strook responding “there is no ‘Palestinian people’ and that is why you are erasing the history of the Jewish people.”

Acting Chairman of the Committee, MK Moshe Tor-Paz said the committee wants to conduct an archeological survey of all the sites, “regardless of religion and heritage.”

“The committee takes seriously the state of antiquities in Judea and Samaria and seeks to compare the treatment of antiquities in Judea and Samaria with the practice of antiquities within the Green Line. The committee wants to conduct an archeological survey of all the sites, regardless of religion and heritage, and offer a plan for their preservation,” he stated.

The committee requests the establishment of the “Judea and Samaria District” in the IAA, similar to the existing model in the Nature and Parks Authority.