Arabs vandalized an archaeological site in Israel’s biblical heartland that millions of Jews and Christians revere as the location where Joshua built an altar, an Israeli NGO said on Thursday.
The reports of renewed damage to the site on Mount Ebal known as Joshua’s Altar, which is under joint control with the Palestinian Authority, highlights anew the need for the preservation, upkeep and safeguarding of Israeli archaeological sites in P.A.-controlled areas after decades of neglect.
Israeli activists from the Forum for the Struggle for Every Dunam who visited the site reported that local Arab residents burned tires at the site outside Nablus [Shechem] in Samaria, spray-painted Arabic graffiti and erected a PLO flag on the altar.
“The grave incident that took place this week is a direct result of the lack of Jewish presence on this hill,” the organization said in a statement. “Today, it is clearer than ever that only the fixed Jewish presence of a farm or town will guarantee there is really control over the site, and prevent further damage or destruction of the altar.”
The group said it will hold a prayer service at the site on Friday.
Last year, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant pledged that Israel would not allow Palestinians to damage archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria. Israel has prevented the Palestinians from carrying out construction work on a new neighborhood near Mount Ebal.
“The right-wing government that has spoken out so fiercely in the past against damage to the site must order the establishment of a new community on the hill no later than today. Otherwise, any damage or takeover by Arabs will become an eternal blot on its record,” the Forum said.
Iron Age compound
Mount Ebal was an early Israelite cultic site near the ancient city of Shechem, which appears in the Bible as the first capital of the Kingdom of Israel.
Under the Oslo Accords, the largely deserted Iron Age compound, which dates to the 11th century BCE, has been under Israeli security and Palestinian civilian control for the last quarter century.
Israeli Jews are not allowed to visit the site without military coordination.
In the past, groups of evangelical Christians routinely visited the site with an IDF escort.