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Illegal construction on biblical site prompts rare Israeli action

Despite its location in Area B, Israel's Civil Administration has decided to act in Tel Aroma to prevent further damage to the site.

The ancient Tel Aroma fortress in Samaria is the northernmost of eight fortresses established by the Hasmonean Kingdom to protect Israel’s eastern border. Photo: Regavim.
The ancient Tel Aroma fortress in Samaria is the northernmost of eight fortresses established by the Hasmonean Kingdom to protect Israel’s eastern border. Photo: Regavim.

Over the past several days, Staff Officer for Archeology (SOA) inspectors within Israel’s Civil Administration carried out enforcement operations in the Tel Aroma archaeological site in Samaria, located in Area B, which is under Palestinian civilian control. This was a relatively rare operation since, up until several months ago, the Civil Administration refrained from enforcing violations regarding archaeological sites not located in Area C, which is in full Israeli control.

“Tel Aroma” is a biblical site mentioned in the Book of Judges and a Hasmonean fortress city. It overlooks the Itamar Ridge, and has suffered extensive destruction at the hands of vandals and thieves. Among other incidents, it was discovered that a Hasmonean fortification wall with a unique Herodian addition of decorated stones had been stolen.

About a year ago, Israel Hayom reported that the P.A planned to build a Palestinian heritage site and a mosque commemorating the shahids (“martyrs,” a euphemism for terrorists) at the location. This plan was considered “terrorism aimed at harming Jewish history” by Yossi Dagan, head of the Shomron Regional Council.

According to the “Shomrim al Hanetzach” (Preserving the Eternal) organization, last week Civil Administration personnel confiscated an excavator used to pave an illegal road at the site, destroying archaeological artifacts. As a result of the confiscation, the violations were stopped.

The Civil Administration has recently changed its policy and begun operating in Area B as well, where violations of antiquities laws and archaeological site destruction occurs. Several months ago, Israel Hayom reported that the Civil Administration was operating in the Khirbet Turpin ruins, also located in Area B. At the beginning of this month, SOA personnel operated in Khirbet Turpin again, confiscating four vehicles and arresting looters at the scene.

“We welcome the new trend,” said Moshe Gutman, chairman of Preserving the Eternal. “The State of Israel has understood that it is also responsible for heritage sites located in Area B. The policy change that began in Khirbet Turpin is spreading throughout Judea and Samaria, led by the political echelon. We hope to see more and more effective enforcement operations such as these. The heritage belongs to us all,” he added.

The Israeli government has set as a goal acting against the phenomenon of archaeological site destruction in Judea and Samaria, and preserving Jewish heritage in the region.

Last week, as was published by Israel Hayom, the government approved a massive plan to combat the destruction of antiquities, allocating NIS 120 million ($32 million) to the cause.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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