(April 2, 2019 / JNS)
On a recent hike in the Jericho region, volunteers for “Protecting the Eternal” discovered a burial tomb that had been exposed in the course of construction work. The graves were looted and human remains were scattered throughout the area.
The ancient burial caves on the outskirts of Jericho date back to the Second Temple period and are apparently part of the extensive burial grounds of the Hasmonean palace uncovered at the site. The cave was recently exposed in the course of landscaping work carried out by local Arab farmers, who rolled tractors over the site to prepare the ground for agricultural work.
Professor Rachel Hachlili of Haifa University’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology, who studied this region, identified these caves as the largest Second Temple-era burial ground in Israel.
Hikers who visited the site over the weekend were appalled by what they found: Human remains were strewn everywhere on the freshly tilled ground, the catacombs were thoroughly ransacked and looted, and the sarcophagi (burial caskets) that had been resting in the caves for more than 2,500 years had disappeared.
Antiquities theft and destruction of archaeological treasures is rampant; in fact, it has become nearly commonplace throughout Judea and Samaria. In this case, ancient catacombs were wiped out by illegal quarrying despite the constant stream of alerts, warnings and documentation sent to the Regional Commander for Antiquities in the Civil Administration, the body responsible for law enforcement in the area.
Yakhin Zik, director of operations at Regavim, said “the loss of our archaeological record and the ongoing failure to protect and preserve our heritage is an incomprehensible disgrace. The [Israeli] government must approve additional manpower and create standards that will ensure the preservation of antiquities and the severe punishment of looters.”
Moshe Gutman of the “Preserving the Eternal“ initiative, adds: “The time has come for those who make declarations about their commitment to our national legacy to open their eyes to the ISIS-style destruction that is happening all around us. I call upon the prime minister to take responsibility. It is inconceivable that a civilized country tolerates the plunder and devastation of word cultural heritage sites.”