OpinionArchaeology

Defend Jewish holy sites

The Palestinian Authority is systematically destroying the Jewish people’s birthright in Judea and Samaria.

A yeshiva student learning Talmud overlooking Nablus during a tour at Joshua's Altar on Mt. Ebal in Samaria. Photo: Benjamin Sipzner.
A yeshiva student learning Talmud overlooking Nablus during a tour at Joshua's Altar on Mt. Ebal in Samaria. Photo: Benjamin Sipzner.
Benjamin Sipzner
Benjamin Sipzner
Benjamin Sipzner is the director of international operations at Ad Kan and an adviser to the Israeli minister of Aliyah.

Following the Jewish people’s return to Israel after 2,000 years, Jewish sites that define our history and identity are being destroyed and taken away from us once again.

This past Monday, the second day of Chol Hamoed Sukkot, I had the privilege of visiting an ancient mizbeach (altar) on Mt. Ebal in the Samaria region, which according to many archaeologists is the altar that was built by Joshua upon entering the Land of Israel.

The trip was organized by Israel’s Samaria Regional Council to highlight and stop the takeover and destruction of the site by the Palestinian Authority. The P.A. has begun illegal construction of a neighborhood on the site of the altar that will erase this priceless marker of Jewish and biblical history.

Tragically, the area is blocked to Israelis most of the year. On this particular day, in cooperation with the Regional Council, the IDF provided security for thousands of Israelis who came to pay homage to this ancient holy site.

After our victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, we returned to the lands of Judea and Samaria, the birthplace of our forefathers and land of the Bible. We now possessed a direct connection to our Jewish birthright and our past. We also had clear proof to the world that the Land of Israel in its entirety belongs to the Jewish people.

Unfortunately, the government of the State of Israel did not realize the gravity of the situation nor did it prioritize these ancient sites when it had the chance.

The Arabs do understand the significance of the Jewish sites. Since 1967, they have destroyed and damaged hundreds of such sites in Judea and Samaria. This has been clearly documented by groups such as Guarding the Eternal, the Center for the Protection of Antiquities of Israel and the Shiloh Forum. These groups have provided indisputable proof that the P.A. is complicit in this destruction and specifically encourages its people to damage Jewish sites.

In the last few years, Arabs have firebombed Joseph’s Tomb, burned ancient Samaria, the capital city of the Kingdom of Israel in today’s Sebastia, destroyed Hasmonean and Herodian palaces in Jericho, damaged the ancient pools of King Solomon, sealed up caves where fighters in the Bar Kochba Revolt concealed themselves and attacked the aforementioned altar of Joshua on Mt. Ebal—which was deliberately plowed over by Palestinian farmers using tractors.

Just a few weeks ago, UNESCO classified Jericho as a Palestinian heritage site. Jericho is the first town that Joshua and the Jewish people conquered in the Land of Israel after encircling it seven times. The ancient palaces of Herod and the Hasmonean dynasty are also located in Jericho. UNESCO’s rewriting of history is only possible because Israel did not invest in branding the site years ago. In the coming months, UNESCO—in cooperation with the P.A.—plans to vote on whether the biblical sites of Mt. Blessing and Mt. Ebal will be recognized as Palestinian heritage sites. The danger is clear.

While walking back to our car from Joshua’s altar on Mt. Ebal, I asked my wife to take a rock home, because there is a strong possibility we will not be able to return to the site if, God forbid, the Arabs succeed in destroying it. While driving home, I teared up while thinking of the millions of Jews who were exiled from the Land of Israel thousands of years ago, not knowing when they would return. For 2,000 years, they wept and prayed for that return, chanting, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

With God’s help and the Jewish people’s strength, we have been blessed in our generation to return to our homeland and walk in the footsteps of our forefathers. It is our responsibility to take advantage of the gift God has given us and hold on to our ancient holy sites.

Although many mistakes have been made and significant damage has occurred, now is the time for the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry to step up and invest in our heritage sites in Judea and Samaria. This effort will strengthen tourism and Israel’s true biblical identity in the eyes of the international community.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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