New report claims Trump Middle East peace plan would place heritage sites across Judea and Samaria in a Palestinian state.
Hundreds of heritage and archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria could be removed from Israeli control and transferred to the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction, according to the map released in conjunction with US President Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot revealed Tuesday morning.
The full list of endangered sites, which was presented to Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) and other influential officials, will be discussed today in the context of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hearing scheduled to begin at noon. The hearing, initiated by MKs Shlomo Karai, Matan Kahane and Moshe Arbel, will examine the steps taken by the Israeli government to combat the Palestinian takeover of Area C (the portion of Judea and Samaria placed under full Israeli jurisdiction under the Oslo Accords).
There are some 6,000 sites of historical and archaeological importance in Judea and Samaria that are recognized by the scientific community, but only 2,300 or so have been officially declared protected archaeological sites.
Following the roll-out of the “Peace to Prosperity” plan, “Preserving the Eternal,” a project dedicated to the preservation of the archaeological treasures scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, conducted an emergency survey for the Shiloh Policy Forum, of 365 major antiquities sites that bear particularly important physical testimony to Israel’s national heritage.
Of the 365 sites surveyed for this project, 258 are located in what is currently Area C.
According to the conceptual maps released with the Trump Plan, some 30% of these sites will be part of the future Palestinian state: 135 heritage sites currently under Israeli control will be reassigned to Palestinian jurisdiction. Notable among these are the Hasmonean Fortress at Horkania in the northern Judean Desert, the Hasmonean Fortress at Kypros in the Jordan Valley, the Hasmonean palaces near Jericho, the biblical city of Shomron (Samaria-Sebastia), the altar of Joshua on Mount Ebal, Tel Beitar, Tel Maon, Tel Hebron, among others.
Currently, the overwhelming majority of antiquities sites in Judea and Samaria suffer from constant vandalism and looting, with a sorely understaffed and underfunded department of the Civilian Administration responsible for law enforcement and prevention measures. To make matters worse, the Palestinian Authority has recently stepped up its activities in this area, dedicating tremendous effort and resources to re-writing and re-defining the history of these sites, turning them into “Palestinian heritage sites” and erasing or obscuring Jewish history, while curtailing access to the sites for Israeli tourists, archaeologists and other visitors.
These efforts are in full swing in such illustrative cases as Sebastia, the capital city of the biblical Jewish Kingdom of Samaria, and in the Hasmonean fortress of Tel Aromah near Peduel.
There is good reason for concern that these trends will be exacerbated, causing further erasure of history and the physical record of the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel in the archeology sites that Israel is slated to abandon.
“Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, the State of Israel has not maintained its heritage sites,” says Etan Melet, Field Coordinator for the Preserving the Eternal Project. “Priceless archaeological sites have been neglected by the government and have been relegated to a very disrespectful place in the list of national priorities. 4,000 years of history should be given far more respect. We demand that decision makers give their full attention to our national heritage sites and take whatever steps are necessary to maintain them, even if it requires resources or adjusting the here and there. ”
Meir Deutsch, Director General of the Regavim Movement, adds: “The Oslo Accords’ stipulations on preservation of and access to these world heritage treasures have failed completely. The coordination mechanism never got off the ground, and antiquities sites have been subjected to incessant looting that has damaged them to the point that in many cases there is nothing left for archaeologists to examine or document, not to mention preserve. Many more sites are on the verge of being lost forever to the scientific community, and other major sites have been targeted by the PA’s for takeover and “repurposing” as “Palestinian heritage sites.”