update deskIsrael News

Israel declares 42 acres around archeological site state land

Local authorities hailed the announcement as a first step towards developing the Herodian National Park.

People visit Herodion National Park in Judea, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
People visit Herodion National Park in Judea, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.

Israel’s Civil Administration has declared 170 dunams of land (42 acres) surrounding the Herodian (also called Herodium) National Park and archeological site in Judea state land, in what local authorities hailed as a first step towards developing the historical area.

This move is the latest in a recent series of similar moves by the Civil Administration, which is part of the Israeli Defense Ministry. 

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism Party), who oversees the Civil Administration as part of his role as second minister in the Defense Ministry, called the move important and said it was part of a plan to develop “open spaces” in Judea and Samaria.

The Herodian has been the scene of some political turmoil in the past. Several years ago, Palestinians illegally appropriated land in the National Park to build a school.

Last May, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the Civil Administration to tear down the illegal building after a lengthy court battle, and the school was eventually demolished. 

The newly elected head of the Gush Etzion Council, Yaron Rosenthal, praised the decision in a public statement.

“This is wonderful news. The Herodian is one of the most important historical sites in the Land of Israel and an international tourist gem,” he said.

“We have worked for more than 20 years to convert the Herodian into a state-of-the-art tourist and heritage site. This announcement constitutes a catalyst for transforming it into an international tourist center. This is a magnificent testimony to our historical connection with this part of the country,” added Rosenthal.

Others were less pleased by the move. Peace Now, a left-wing NGO, wrote on its website: “The declaration of state land is one of the main methods by which the State of Israel seeks to assert control over land in the occupied territories. Land declared as state land is no longer considered privately owned by Palestinians in the eyes of Israel, and they are prevented from using it.”

This declaration is the third of its kind in as many months. Some 2,600 dunams (642 acres) of land near el-Azariya on the outskirts of Jerusalem was declared state land in February, followed by 8,160 dunams (2019 acres) in the Jordan Valley late last month.

The latter declaration was condemned by French President Emmanuel Macron.

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